There is one and only one secret to success in maths- PRACTICE. You may not consider yourself as “naturally gifted” at maths as others in your grade, but by doing a lot of practice you can bridge that gap. In fact, if you compare someone with a higher IQ but doesn’t practise to someone with an average IQ but practises maths, I guarantee that the latter will be more successful.
However, by practice I don’t just mean doing question after question in your nearest textbook; there are specific ways you should go about studying maths to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency. Remember, it’s all about the quality of your study rather than the quantity.
No matter what level of maths you’re doing at school (2Unit, 3Unit or 4Unit), here are some foolproof tips to get you rolling:
- Previse and revise. A university maths professor once said to me that maths is the most forgettable subject. Especially with all those formulas and proofs, I absolutely agree. To maximise your ability to fully understand a maths topic, make sure you learn the concept BEFORE your schoolteacher teaches it. For example, read up on that topic in a textbook or come to ACE where we cover topics at least 2 weeks before your school (shameless advertising #sorrynotsorry). Revision is just as important as prevision. Make sure you come back to that tricky concept or topic after your school has taught it and revise it multiple times before exams.
- Practise your speed and accuracy. Expose yourself to as many different types of questions as possible to gain exposure to different problem solving methods that you can then apply to the exam. A big proportion of the exam is made up of standard questions almost every student who has done a lot of practice can answer. If you can get all these standard questions correct with no marks lost due to careless mistakes, then you are already looking at a very good mark. Doing a lot of questions at home as fast as you can can hone both your speed and accuracy.
- Past papers. In maths, doing past papers under exam conditions with the appropriate time limit is the best type of practice you can do. They expose you to the perfect exam-style questions and also often have fully worked solutions with allocated marks. They also allow you to see whether you can work fast enough. Be resourceful and if you can, get your hands on the Sydney Boys, James Ruse and Sydney Grammar papers (hardest) as well as the actual HSC papers of course.
- Handwriting. Under exam pressure, neat handwriting can be very difficult to maintain. However, proper setting out and legible writing is crucial. I’ve marked a paper once where a person wrote a 4 that morphed into a y as their working went on. You will not only annoy the marker but you will also kick yourself if you lose marks on things you clearly knew how to solve.
- Learn from your mistakes. Find which topics you are bad at and practise until they are no longer your weaknesses. The fastest way you can improve is by understanding your mistake, redoing that question and then practising similar exercises to reinforce your understanding. For mistakes in past papers, write all of them down in one place and before your exams, flip through them and remind yourself to not make similar ones.
Trust me, you don’t have to be born with “math genes” (which by the way don’t even exist (shock, horror!)) to be good at maths. Whoever puts in more time and effort wins in the exam, nothing is up to chance. I don’t know why movies often portray maths as the stereotypical hard subject because it really isn’t. If you want maths to love you, perhaps you should start by changing your attitude towards it first (i.e. love it back).