Maths Study Skills

Maths is a unique subject involving symbols, formulas, specific procedures, textbooks that look different, and many unique words and terms. Consequently, it is important to use study skills that apply particularly well to maths. Here are some you should use.

  • Maths is a sequential subject. What is taught on a given day is based upon what was taught before. Once you fall behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. Cramming at the last minute will not help you. Be certain to attend every class and keep up with your teacher. If you do fall behind get help. There is little point struggling to keep up with new topics if you do not understand the previous topics on which they depend.
  • Maths is often considered a difficult subject that becomes increasingly complex. You may have to spend more study time on this subject than on your other subjects, particularly if doing higher level.
  • Don’t try to memorize your way through maths. There are simply too many formulas and procedures. Try to master the key concepts. This will reduce the amount of information you will need to remember. Almost all the formulae you need for the junior or leaving cert are given in the “Formulae and Tables” booklet which you will have in the exam anyway.
  • Once you learn a procedure for solving a problem, that same procedure can often be used to solve other problems. When presented with a new problem, try to apply your past learning to the new problem.
  • Learn the vocabulary of maths. Maths like any other subject has a vocabulary of its own. Often, a word used in maths has a different meaning to that same word when used elsewhere. For example, volume in maths refers to the amount of space within a solid figure. Outside of maths, volume can refer to a book or to loudness. Write new maths words and terms and their maths meanings in a special place in your notebook. Use the Internet to look up definitions of words in subject specific online dictionaries.
  • Read the topic to be covered before you go to class.  Very few students actually do this but I believe than this could be one of the single most important tactics to employ when learning maths or indeed most other subjects. If you do this you will be better prepared for the class. You will already know the parts of the class to which you need to pay particular attention. You have a better chance of knowing what questions you need to ask in class.

Read slowly. Reading mathematics is not like reading a novel or even history. Speed reading techniques are not appropriate. Every word and symbol is important to the meaning. Do not skip the symbolic part of the text. This is often the most important part. If you do not understand a symbol, look in the glossary or in the earlier part of the text. Symbols are often explained when they are first introduced. If you still can not find out what a symbol means, ASK!

Read with a pencil in hand. Every time the author does a problem, do it on your own—either before or after you read his or her explanation. This makes sure you know what steps have been shown and, more importantly, which ones were omitted.

If there is something you do not understand, try to formulate a question about it. Often if you can ask a specific question, you can answer it yourself. If you can’t answer it, you know what part of the class instruction requires your complete attention. Your question is ready if the class does not clear up your misunderstanding.

  • Understand the concepts. Don’t be satisfied with vague ideas about how to work problems. Do the examples yourself, understand the concept illustrated, then try making up your own examples. Keep in mind that the questions on the exam may be very different from the example in the book.
  • Practice. Be sure you understand the concepts before you practice. Then practice will help you remember and give you confidence in your mastery. Force yourself to remember the methods as you work problems; don’t look back in the book.
  • Keeping up to date with assignments helps you to better understand what is going on in class.  Mathematics is not a spectator sport. You can’t learn it just by reading and listening. Much of maths learning involves actively doing. This means that you must keep up with and do all of your maths homework and assignments. This is essential to learning how to use formulas and procedures. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of the time you spend on homework.
    1. The purpose of homework is to help you understand certain concepts and to help you build certain skills. Homework is not assigned to you because it is important to get the right answers.  While right answers are required to get full marks in exams, this is secondary to demonstrating that you know and can use the correct methods and understand the concepts.
    2. Try to understand the process, not the specific problem. Classify problems in the assignment by problem type. Although this is often done for you by the directions, it is not always. Do each assigned problem and then check it in the back of the book. Try to figure out why you missed the ones you did instead of just working toward the answer.
    3. Mark homework problems you still do not understand and get help with them before the next class. The next lecture may build on a concept or skill you did not understand in the homework. When you do get help, make notes on what you learned, so that you can study them for the test.
    4. Before closing the book, look back over the assignment and try to explain to yourself what the assignment was about, what each kind of problem was asking, how you got the answers and what the answers tell you. This process will help you understand the material and will help you discover what you don’t understand.
    5. Keep your homework in a convenient and neat notebook so that you will be able to find questions or difficulties you have quickly and easily. This will also provide an invaluable study guide for tests.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions. Ask your teacher for help after you have tried to pull class notes and textbook explanations together for review and still don’t understand. Write down specific problems so you have them ready; don’t be vague and say you just don’t understand.
  • Don’t hesitate to get help. The longer you wait before getting help, the harder it will be to catch up. Most of the time when you feel lost, it is just one concept that you are missing, so get help quickly. One missed concept in a maths class could make the rest of your maths career a hardship. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask questions and get help; even the best mathematicians have felt completely lost at some point.

Maths is a subject that makes many students very anxious. As simple as it sounds, having confidence in yourself can reduce your anxiety. Confidence comes from knowledge and understanding, which comes from study and getting help when needed.

For details on Galway Maths Grinds’ study skills courses or help with maths call Noel on 085-1393768 to discuss your requirements.

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