With all its unfamiliar symbols and notation, mathematics can be daunting. However, a few simple techniques can take the fear factor out of maths, and give you the confidence to tackle the most challenging questions. Here’s 5 easy tips for how to embrace the challenge of maths:
1. Get comfortable with the basics
Part of what puts people off attempting the most difficult maths problems is when they find themselves tripping up on the basics. Make sure you understand the rules for using basic operations, rearranging equations, fractions, powers & roots, and expanding brackets, before you look at more difficult techniques, such as differentiation. The best way to understand the basics is to practise them, so maybe spend a few hours going over plenty of examples.
2. Break down big problems into small steps
You’ve come across an exam question with a lot of marks available, and you don’t know how to answer it. What do you do? Break the question up into more manageable chunks! If you know what your endpoint is, ask yourself: what do I need to know before I can work out the answer? Anything you don’t already know, you will need to work out. Now what do you need to know to work that out? Continue working backwards until you are left with only the information you have already been given, and hey presto! You now have all the intermediate steps required to get to the final answer.
3. Write everything down
One of the frustrating parts of maths is getting your final answer, only to discover that you had made a simple mistake early on, and will have to do everything all over again. To minimize the chance of this happening, write down each step of your working, rather than trying to do several steps at once in your head. This not just a good way of avoiding silly mistakes, but also is good exam technique, as examiners can easy identify when and if you have gone wrong, so you will only lose one mark rather than more.
4. Use all of the information available to you
It is all to easy to forget how much information is available to you, and start to feel as if a question is impossible to answer. Read through the question carefully, and note down any formulas, facts, and figures (including units!). Look through your formula booklet for help, you might be surprised by how much is in there! Think about how the formulas you are given can be adapted to your specific problem. Lastly, always remember that your calculator can do a lot of your work for you. With all that behind you, plus the techniques you’ve learned, you should have everything you need to answer the question.
5. Think about ways to check your answer
If you struggle with confidence, think about ways to check your answers as you progress through questions. That way, you can take heart from your successes, helping you to remain calm when you come up against the nastier questions. Try running your method ‘backwards’ to see if you can get back to the information you were given in the question. Check that your coordinates are solutions to the graph equation you have. Think about whether your answer is a reasonably sensible figure for the question.
With these tips, you can overcome your fear of mathematics, allowing you to reach your potential, and maybe even start to find the fun in maths!
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