How to Study Maths

Studying maths is different to studying other subjects.  If you are reading this you are probably trying to study it for the first time.  May be you’ve gotten by on your natural talent up until this point.  Natural talent is great, as long as it lasts.  The good news is that when talent can’t get you by any longer, hard work can.  Learning HOW to study maths will make a big difference to your results.

Study techniques can briefly be summarised into three categories – summarise, memorise and practice.  For most of the subjects you studied up until this point, you probably focused mainly on summarise with a little of memorise.  Maths is different because it relies on memorise and lots of PRACTICE!

  1. Memorise your basics – know your times tables.  Really.  I just spoke to a smart Gr 12 who is getting 70% + for maths.  She wrote her NBT (National Benchmark Test) last month.  She tells me it was so hard because you can’t use a calculator so she had to guess a lot of answers.  She got 35%.  Eish.  This tells me she didn’t know her basics.  She probably can’t do basic multiplication and division, long multiplication and division, she has forgotten basic geometry formulas, is used to pressing the calculator coefficient button or square root button at the right time but doesn’t understand the process behind it.  Seriously, learn your basics.  One day when you’re shopping and trying to work out the best value for money can of baked beans, you’ll be glad that you can divide the price by grams.
  2. Practice – as in get out a paper and pen and DO some of the questions.  You can’t study maths by reading the text book.  It is not a novel.  Take questions from your text book and work them out.  Check your answer – back of book is your friend.  If you got it wrong, work out why.  When you run out of problems in your maths book we can highly recommend The Answer Series for a fresh source of problems.  There are also various online websites with explanations and questions for various maths units.  Up to grade 8 –  Beyond grade 8 –
  3. Notice what you can and can’t do well.  Make a list of your weak areas and ASK FOR HELP.  Maths teachers LOVE it when you ask them questions.  It lets them know that you are THINKING and TRYING.  It makes them feel like their subject is important.  Which it is.  Remember?  If you can’t get a question in during class time, ask to see your teacher out of class.  A list of specific questions is impressive and marks you as a dedicated worker.
  4. Understand that Maths is different from most other subjects because knowledge accumulates upwards, not across ways.  It is like building a tower.  You need good foundations, you need an entry level, then you go up.  If you are missing bits from down the bottom, your tower is going to tumble.  Every time you go to a maths lesson, it is building on the piece before.  If you miss a class, you have a gap.  If you don’t understand a concept, you have a gap.  Don’t just keep on building.  Fix the gap.
  5. Be a good planner.  When you are building a tower, you have an idea of where you are going.  Stay ahead of your class.  Check your book – what is coming up next?  Try a few of the problems.  That way, when the teacher explains the new concept, you will already have some questions ready.
  6. Get over the idea that if you don’t have maths homework, you don’t need to do any maths.  You always have maths practice.  My high school maths teacher used to say, 5 problems a day keeps maths fear away.
3 replies
  1. Simthandile Mhlambiso
    Simthandile Mhlambiso says:

    This is fantastic! I’ll definitely share it on facebook: there’s a “Bcom Accounting sciences students in SA” facebook page that I joined, and there are high school learners who want to be CA’s that have asked how important Maths is over Maths Lit. to qualify for entrance to the Bcom Accounting course. Perhaps It is those that struggle with Maths, so i’ll be sure to share this with them. Thanks so much SAILI :D.

    P.S: i’m actually an alumni of SAILI. I was with SAILI between 2006-2010. 😀


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