MEI - Using and abusing percentages

This activity takes a deep look at the use of percentages in research and the media. The examples used focus on the simple (but often overlooked) distinction between absolute and relative percentages and percentage changes.

Mathematical Strand

Number and Measures

Prior Knowledge

This task should be accessible to all Core Maths students. The only prerequisite is the ability to calculate percentages and percentage changes.

Relevance to Core Maths qualifications

  • AQA
  • C&G
  • Eduqas
  • Pearson/ Edexcel
  • OCR

Suggested approaches

The activity includes 10 questions, which are given on the Student sheet. You could simply give the sheet to students and ask them to work through it. However, the questions are well suited to group work, and students would benefit from the resulting discussion. The Teacher notes provide good examples of the kind of analysis that you could bring up when discussing each question.


The activity consists of two A4 documents:

  • Student sheet, with 10 questions to answer and discuss
  • Teacher notes, with background information and suggested analyses for each of the questions

Relevant digital technologies

Students can use calculators throughout the activity, although a spreadsheet approach would be a very useful way of exploring some of the calculations further.

Possible extensions

Students could go on to examine other examples of percentage use and abuse in the media.


Developed by MEI, with funding from the Department for Education as part of the Critical Maths project to develop a post-16 mathematical thinking curriculum based on ideas from Professor Sir Timothy Gowers -