As we continue on our tips and tricks to improve different subjects, we get to the one that a lot of people struggle with. In fact, one of our most frequent tutoring requests is for mathematics. There can be a lot of reasons for this, and we cannot list them all. However, we can share a few tricks we’ve found that are most relevant to improving one’s math skills.
It will come as no shock to anyone that the best way to fully understand and be able to complete math problems is to get as much practise as you can. Generally textbook problems have the easiest ones first. Just because you can complete the first few does not mean that you can complete all of them, nor that you are comfortable with the material. Often, while an idea or skill is fresh in your mind, it is easier to complete the problems than once you have forgotten some of the nuances. This is why you need to do the problems at the end (and throughout) the chapter; to make sure that you do not forget an important step or concept. It is generally a good idea to complete all of the questions your teacher has assigned and then judge whether you need further practise. If you would still like more practise, you can ask your teacher, another textbook which covers the same material or find an online resource.
Now, that was the ideal scenario, in which the student just doesn’t practise enough and cannot complete the problems on the test. How about students who just do not understand? This is not such an easy fix. First, you must figure out what you do not understand. This can be done through asking your teacher, a tutor, a peer, or just seeing how far you can get in a problem and then asking questions of someone who understands the material to figure out the next step. Then, you must go back and figure out what you do not know in order to be able to understand the current topic. This is where a tutor can be a great help since they can explain what you have missed previously, and then help you catch up with the current subject matter.
One of the less talked about reasons a student has trouble with mathematics is that they do not understand what is being asked of them. What we mean by this, is that a student can have trouble with the language used in the problem, so they cannot solve it. For example, a student can complete the assignments where the equation has been set up, but cannot do a similar calculation within a word problem. This can be an indication that the student needs help with the language aspect. When the student understands what the problem is asking, they can then solve it.
Another trick that most students do not use enough is to discuss their test/assignment with the person who is grading it. It is very important to note that this is a discussion, not an argument or dispute of the mark you received. It is just a way to help you understand where you made a mistake and how you can make sure it does not happen again. Sometimes you will find that an explanation of your mistake (and the solution to how not to repeat it) is a much better use of your time than going around in circles with a difficult problem.
DID YOU KNOW?
Asking the right questions is an important part of understanding any topic.
One more underutilized resource is going to office hours/extra help sessions. If you cannot ask a question during the lesson, the extra help sessions that most teachers/professors have can be an excellent way to get your questions answered. However, the hardest part about utilizing this option is that most educators can help if there is a specific question you have. Just saying “I don’t understand [something general]” or “I don’t get it” is not a good use of anyone’s time. Asking the right questions will go a long way in these (and many other) situations. Having more time with less people with your teacher/professor can be the slight investment of time that can really pay off.
With enough of the right type of work, you should see and feel your confidence and understanding of mathematics increase. If, after a while, you do not feel you are getting better you can always try a different strategy or a combination of the strategies listed above. Once you figure out your strategy, whatever your combination (or permutation), and you put in the time and effort to become better (without being afraid to ask for help), your math skills should improve.