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LEARNING HACKS Maths is the most hated subject for many students because they often don’t keep up in class. They then don’t make any more effort – and thus give away valuable points. But mathematics has nothing to do with talent and is open to anyone who wants to understand it.
“There are people who can do maths and there are people who can’t.” I think everyone of us has heard this sentence before. But is it true? Is it really so hopeless to get good grades in maths if you think you simply don’t have any mathematical understanding? Not at all! Here you’ll find everything you need to know to become a maths genius after all.
The secret behind maths: basics
Nothing works without basics. More than any other subject, maths builds on what you learned in the lower grades. If, for example, you have to calculate the zero of a function, but you’re not sure what a zero is (namely, it’s the x if f(x) = y = 0), you’ll fail even with the easiest problems and give away easy points. You don’t really need to tackle the more difficult questions.
Note: A year and a half has passed since this article was written. But now, in the first semester of my physics studies, I realize the importance of mathematical basics even more. The math here can hardly be compared to school math, but without basics you won’t get very far in physics studies either. Unfortunately, I have missed catching up on college math basics to the point where I can confidently apply them to current tasks. This makes my exam preparation a lot more difficult. So don’t make the same mistake I did and internalize the math basics as soon as you learn them … and every now and then after that. You will not regret it!
Revise your knowledge
Should you now realise: Oops, I guess I didn’t pay attention in 9th grade! that’s not the end of the world. With a little diligence, you can catch up on the basics quite easily:
- Make a list of all the questions you have left unanswered.
- Find friends, old textbooks, YouTube videos or whatever else helps you to understand the facts.
- Work through the list, calculate old tasks and memorise the solutions. For example, how about a little study guide “Ways to calculate zeros”?
- Don’t be satisfied with “somewhat understood”. Always add to your list if a detail still seems strange to you.
You don’t have to work through all basics of the previous classes at once. Look in advance at the topics you will be discussing in class over the next few weeks. Think about which basics are important for this and make a practice plan for the coming weekends.
Of course, there are formulas and maths tricks that you need to know at all times. For example, our old maths teacher used to call the p/q formula (for calculating x of quadratic equations) the “midnight formula”. A formula that you have to be able to recite off the cuff when your teacher is suddenly standing in your room at midnight. Admittedly, a strange idea. But the message is clear.
Basic arithmetic must be easy, you should be able to distinguish between “denominator” and “numerator”, know the binomial formulae, know the definition of “vectors” and be able to convert between metre (m) and centimetre (cm), and so on. Even if you don’t know all the power laws by heart, you should at least know where to look them up in the tables.
You should also have simple tricks and conversion rules for equations in mind, because if you don’t know that 2 is the same as 40.5, you won’t get anywhere with some tasks. Logarithms are particularly difficult for pupils in this context. My tip for this problem: Look for practical numbers that you can remember easily and derive the laws of calculation from them. I, for example, have always remembered that both “23 = 8″ and “log28 = 3″ are valid and can therefore rewrite all logarithms without great difficulty.
Practice, practice and practice
Once you have mastered the basics, it’s time to practise until you drop. It’s annoying, but incredibly effective. Do your homework as thoroughly as possible, recalculate exercises from class and also look at the “test” pages in your maths book. In this way, you will consolidate different calculation techniques and learn to cope with different tasks.
Tip: You think learning overviews don’t make sense for maths? Actually, they are more useful in this subject than in many others. Have you ever thought that you can use the approach to different types of tasks (which you have listed on your overview) in class when you get stuck?
If you have problems, you can get help from classmates, parents, friends or even your maths teacher – teachers are usually very happy if you work on tasks on your own. Once you have completed the task for the first time, make a note of it so that you don’t forget to do it again in two days. Just until you have mastered it in your dreams.
Maths becomes easy
As you can see, maths is a subject where diligence definitely pays off. But you also have to keep at it. Think in class, check in often and try to grasp new topics as quickly as possible. If necessary, sit down for half an hour at home and try to sort out what you have learned today in your head. The sooner you understand the subject matter, the easier it will be for you to follow along in the next lessons and you will soon be able to tackle more difficult types of problems.
You can believe me that maths is automatically more fun when you understand it. Over time, it will be this fun that will bring you some mathematical thinking. You’ll know more quickly what the problem is actually trying to achieve, because you’ll understand what calculation technique is actually hidden behind it. And when you have found a complicated calculation path on your own for the first time, you can consider yourself lucky because you know: Now I can do maths!
More is more, don’t you think?: click here to find more general tips or here to learn what to do when you have a blackout.