Getting good at maths is the dream for many students, especially those wanting to take the subject at A Level (AS or A2) and beyond, enrolling on a Maths degree at university after they finish their GCSEs and subsequent education.
They may want to be an accountant, an engineer, a teacher, or even a famous mathematician like Albert Einstein!
However, we have to agree on one thing: we don’t all have the same abilities when it comes to Maths.
Some people find algebra easier, others geometry or probabilities, and then there’s also a lot of people who have trouble solving an equation or cry at the sight of fractions.
You wouldn't imagine that Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher and after whom the Pythagorean theorem was named, would have struggled with his mathematical theory but it is likely that people like he (and Isaac Newton, for instance) would have excelled in one or two areas of maths more so than in others. Saying that, a person who has a good understanding of mathematical elements is usually at ease with numerous other related concepts even if they aren't excellent in all fields.
But what if we told you that your general maths ability is set out from a young age, as young as six months old?
According to Discover Magazine, scientists ran a test on a group of six-month-old babies to determine their ability to detect differences in quantity. They showed the 48 infants a series of dots which changed periodically and worked out if they registered the difference judging by the length of time they took looking at each array after it had been changed.
Some seemed to show a more advanced sense of awareness.
The researchers then tested the same group of children three years later, which involved finding out how well they knew their numbers and their ability to count from one to ten, and discovered that those who performed better at the tasks presented to them as babies were once again the keenest and more proficient at this later stage of their childhood.
Psychologist Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University stated that: "These and other studies demonstrate that innate number sense and symbolic math ability are intimately linked, so by improving one you can improve the other.” Therefore, for young children, playing games that hone number sense from a young age could have a big effect on math learning as children grow and develop.
Are we born either good or bad and how do we get better at Math?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some scientists in this field are arguing that all of us have the innate ability to become accomplished mathematicians. Even someone who can't factorise algebra can look at the queues in a supermarket and instantly estimate which one will be the quickest, for example, which shows that we do all have that natural ability deep within.
These scientists believe that the left hemisphere of our brains, where all of the logical thinking takes place, is swarming with activity yet, for many people, this area is closed off for one reason or another. Whether or not we all have genius-like skills lying dormant in our brains is yet to be proven, but there are real-life cases of people who have managed to unlock this life-changing skill and go from an incompetent mathematician to a numbers expert.
The website Toptenz lists ten people who have gone on to become pros in fields they never had an inclination to pursue before following a head injury, called 'acquired savant syndrome'. For example, Jason Padgett, a furniture salesman was involved in a horrific attack outside a bar. With distorted vision a result of the senseless mugging, another side effect was suddenly seeing geometric representations of mathematical formulas.
Similarly, Orlando Serell was struck on the head by a baseball as a child which led to him developing a sudden awareness of everything. The website states that "Serrell could instantly calculate the day of the week, even if the date fell hundreds of years in the future" as well as remembering ttiny details from the past like every outfit he had worn for most of his life.
Putting the wonders of science aside, for now, it’s clear that everyone has different skills in this subject but it doesn’t just come down to skills, the methodology is also hugely important and something that we can all improve on to make our relationship with Maths a little more loveable.
For example, some students learn better quietly doing activities from worksheets or a textbook whereas others prefer a hands-on rational approach factoring in support from the teacher. Searching for Maths tutors near me can help you the right elementary math tutor who can adapt lessons to your individual needs.
How much time do you need to get good at Maths? You can't become a Maths genius overnight but you can make steady progress week on week if you do put in the commitment and energy to improve.
Learning Maths is Subjective
Evaluating how many Maths tutorials you'll need is very subjective: very young students might just need to practice addition and subtraction before moving on to multiplication and division. Older students may require a much longer programme as they tackle trigonometry, word problems, and calculus.
Furthermore, some grown-ups just need a little encouragement that they are doing a good job and that their intuition is often right before sailing off on a journey to success within the field. Sometimes, just having the confidence to unlock that part of your brain is all it takes to get the numbers flowing.
Take fun math lessons here.
If you’re enrolled on a course in any educational establishment (be it SATs at primary school, GCSE maths revision at secondary school, A Levels at sixth form, or a degree at university), the number of Maths classes is fixed by the course you’re studying. Unless there's a high probability of the student wanting to continue tutorials outside of term time.
Of course, educational establishments need to do this to keep lessons and admin in check but, in reality, they know that the classes offered are never going to be enough for all of the students. That is why many educators advise parents to find their children a maths tutor to prevent them from falling behind.
This doesn't mean that the child is any less intelligent than his or her peers, it is just a case of them needing certain aspects of the lessons explained differently or in more detail before they get head around it. We all learn in our own unique ways and it is, therefore, impossible for teachers to adapt lessons for every need.
The knock-on effects of falling behind
Where issues arise is when students fail to find other ways to understand a Maths lesson and then wind up struggling in the subsequent classes, which often rely on gradually building up knowledge over time to be able to work out more complicated Maths problems. This gap in their learning can be extremely stressful and overwhelming for the pupil.
If you want to take external Maths classes, this will depend on your level and your needs. A private maths tutor can come to your house and evaluate what gaps you have in your knowledge, what you need to improve on, and what your expectations are at the end of the study programme (i.e. Are you getting ready for an exam? Do you just need help with your homework? Are there any mathematical concepts that you need to go over again in full to keep up with the rest of the class?).
The tutor will then suggest how many classes are necessary and, once the student agrees to the terms of the arrangement (or they coordinate with their parents), they can work out a schedule for the tutorials and be on their way to a better mark.
Many tutors will suggest, as an example, an hour-long lesson each week in order to help you catch up and keep up with the methodologies taught over the course of that week, whilst others might recommend a solid 2.5 hour session monthly to work on various aspects of Maths and ensure you're always prepared for that next stage of comprehension.
One thing is certain, though: routine is very important. Your brain needs to train every day, and it takes two days to read, understand, and retain information.
Why do you think that school and work days follow the same structure day in, day out? The reason for a 9 to 5 type of day is that routine helps you to predict what is going to happen, preparing you for the day ahead and what you will learn and absorb during that day.
Although, as a grown up, you have the mental ability to plan ahead, a routine can help to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by daily occurences and cause you less stress in the long run. So, make use of your time and try to set up a routine with your revision and extra curricular tuition to ensure that you are getting the most out of them.
How to become better at Maths
Getting good at Maths isn’t necessarily a question of natural ability. There are various approaches you can take to your maths studies, all of which can have some really positives effects and outcomes.
Take a look at some of our suggestions below.
Choosing the Right Methodology
Much like following a routine, how you prepare and how you tackle Maths are as important as how good you are at it. A very young student counting whole numbers and adding and subtracting obviously won't take the same approach as older students looking at exponent, differential, quadratic, or linear equations and complex numbers, so be sure to tailor your revision methods suitably to your level and course.
There are many guides that you can follow on official websites, with BBC Bitesize being one great example of them. This certified website offers a complete breakdown of all of the topics you can expect to learn on a GCSE syllabus and this helps you to approach your self-study time in a systematic and logical way. So, rather than worrying about where to start, switch on your computer or laptop and give it a whirl.
You'll find many other educational sites tailored to higher education courses too. You may even find some useful revision techniques by visiting your exam board's website.
If you’re disorganised, your thinking will be too. You won’t be able do anything with the numbers and formulae in front of you.
Here are a few tips and tricks on how to become a good Maths student.
Understand First & Learn Maths Second
This can sound like a bit of a paradox when we’re talking about Maths. However, it’s useless learning everything off by heart if you don’t have a clue how to use what you’ve learned.
It’s great to learn dozens of formulae but if you don’t know what they are used for and how to apply them, it’ll all be for nothing. If you can't manage simple algebraic formulae, don't try solving a polynomial equation. There's a reason why your modules are organised in a specific way!
Succeeding in maths tutorials boils down to being able to explain your reasoning.
Try to understand the reasoning, what it’s for, and how it works.
You'll find your progress to be exponential and soon you’ll be able to calculate results which you understand, rather than just memorising these results off by heart.
Learning and understanding maths is the best way to use it.
This is why you should never just stop because you've completed an exercise without making a mistake. That doesn’t mean you’ve fully understood everything!
If you make mistakes, you should always go back over them, try to understand why then do some other exercises.
It can be so tempting to get a parent to help you with a piece of Maths homework and let them lead you to the answer without really taking in the process. Similarly, if you haven't given yourself enough time to learn and understand the process behind a mathematical process, it can seem easy to copy your friend's answer and hope for the best.
This is not the right way to go about it. Any work you do, including prep work done at home, should be something that you yourself can talk someone else through. Even if you got lucky and somehow managed to arrive at the correct answer without really knowing how you did it, that doesn't mean that you can solve other problems like it! Never settle for "I think that's the answer". Instead, aim for "I know that's the answer!".
Don’t Look At The Answer First
It’s tempting but you mustn’t ever look at the answers! (Just as we've mentioned above, don't allow yourself to check your peer's work before reaching the answer yourself, you'll only be working backward from there which will end in disaster!)
Getting stuck on an exercise doesn't mean you are stupid and certainly isn't anything to be ashamed of. Spending time tackling a problem can be one of the best ways to learn Maths and truly understand it.
If you keep looking for the answer because you’re stuck, you’ll end up picking up solutions you can use for other maths problems. The next time you tackle a similar problem, it'll only take a fraction of the time!
Another reason why you should really take your time focusing on the working out process is that this is just as valuable in terms of points during your exam. In Maths, it's not all about getting to the answer immediately. The examiner wants to see that you understand the process behind a formula and will reward you for showing even some level of knowledge on the matter, even if you go give up or go wrong somewhere down the line and don't wind up finding the correct answer.
Learn New Habits to Improve Your Maths Skills
To get good at Maths, it’s important to not get distracted. Always focus on what you have to do and solely on the page in front of you. It is no good having one eye on a game or magazine whilst doing your Maths homework or revision, your brain needs to think exclusively about “Mathematics”.
Before you set out on doing some Maths-related work, get rid of any major distractions, such as your mobile phone. No, texting your friend saying "I'm totally stuck on Question 3 of this Maths prep" is NOT classed as thinking about Maths! This subject, in particular, is one that you really need to give your undivided attention to.
You really must make the effort to either switch off your mobile phone whilst revising, or at least to turn off all notifications to allow you a break from the outside from the world. A focused mind will enable you to take in much information. And, if you are doing a past paper at home, for example, then tell your parents or siblings not to disturb you for the next hour so that you can really use this time to emulate an exam style setting.
While it isn't advisable to listen to your favourite music when studying, which can be a huge distraction, some styles of music are said to encourage thinking. Classical music, for example, is believed to help your brain waves to more active and fluid and listening to this kind of music as a baby is said to make people more intelligent!
So, take your time and make a habit of fully completing every tutorial in a calming environment; paying the attention means you’re already halfway there.
Moreover, always keep your supplies such as textbooks, exercise books, rulers, pencils, calculators close to you. Many Maths problems set by your teacher or tutor will be ones you should work out unaided but there's no harm in using your calculator at the end of the task as reassurance that you did the working out just right.
These are simple and easy rules to follow but you have to always follow them if you’re going to succeed in Maths. Taking the subject seriously now means that you can use Maths in a positive way throughout your life and chosen profession (because Maths crops up even in its simplest form just about anywhere!).
Does Practice Make Perfect When Learning Maths?
Like we said before, if you want to become good at Maths, you have to keep working until you’ve completely understood your lesson.
If you’re the student, going to classes isn’t always enough. Whether you’re at school or taking night classes, you have to regularly practice maths at home. It might even be worthwhile considering at home tutoring so that you can keep practicing. That said, if your parents are paying for you to have some extra help, don't be lazy and think that this will solve all of your Maths problems! You will still need to put in the effort in your own time to improve. So much of Maths-based learning is reliant on what you can manage to do yourself when you are left to work out a problem all by yourself.
Just think of those moments where it is just you and your Maths problem as quality time with respect to your Maths learning. You need that alone time to work through and develop your relationship with the subject!
You've heard the term: practice makes perfect. But, in reality, practice makes permanent.
However, practice is only useful as a learning method if you do it enough. Teachers always encourage pupils to practise, practise, practise, but very rarely do they tell them how much of this they need to or should be doing. This, once again, comes down to the fact that every student learns things differently. For instance, one pupil may take a problem home, practice it for an hour, and have truly understood it. Others, meanwhile, might look at a page in their textbook for four hours or more over the weekend and still not have fully grasped the concept.
So, practicing to the extreme of really understanding the process behind it is what you need to not only pass your test but to also be able to apply this skill at a later stage in life. Unfortunately, this might mean a few extra hours of work for those who it doesn't come naturally to! Remember, though, that while you may struggle with one area of Maths, others will no doubt have difficulties with areas that you find much simpler to understand.
You can very rarely make perfect in any subject field, we are not superhumans! But commitment, regular attention and approaching learning with a steady head is how you master any given subject.
When you’re in a tutorial with your private teacher, take note of their corrections and make sure you ask for explanations of why you made the mistakes so that you can then make your private practice more beneficial.
How to Improve your Maths Skills? Always Ask Questions!
In maths, more than any other subject, curiosity pays off.
As soon as you have any doubts, are confused, or something isn’t clear, make sure you ask why.
The phrasing of one person may be much clearer than that of another. You might understand it better just because they used different expressions.
While you may think that you have a bad Maths teacher, it might just be that their approach to teaching isn't best suited to you as it is to others. That is why, when picking a private tutor, you should make sure that you and your new educator are on the same page and that they can teach you the things you need to learn in a different way. With any luck, you'll find the perfect match and this person will help you to identify where you are going wrong.
By knowing how to identify your problems, you can deal with them and then become better at Maths.
Learning to Read Maths
Maths statements often contain the elements you’ll find in the answer or at least elements to help you think about the problem logically.
Don’t ignore these statements: read them fully, find out how many exercises there are, the time they’ll take, and identify which exercises you find the easiest.
Some people prefer to start with the simpler exercises while others prefer the complicated ones. It’s up to you to decide which strategy will best manage your stress levels.
Finally, carefully read every word in the statement.
This will help you understand the subject, avoid errors in comprehension, and also recognise the different parts of the exercise.
Knowing how to read a statement is not like reading a book: be methodical when you read and distinguish yourself from most students.
We’re talking about actively reading the statement. This means that while you’re reading, you’re also thinking about the concepts and formulae related to the statement.
This is a great approach to have when entering an exam also. It is so important that you don't just skim over a question and then dive into the working out straight away. Always read and re-read the question several times before you contemplate answering it. Especially if you have a wordy question related to probability, in this scenario the words can be as important as looking at the numbers that appear.
Learn to Use The Best Tools With Your Maths Tutor
Going back to the experiment we discussed earlier, further research into math tutoring has offered some interesting insights too.
Studies conducted by Stanford University in the US on third-graders (8-9 year-olds) over a period of 8 weeks explain why some children respond to math tutoring better than others do. The scientists put 24 pupils through a math tutoring program whereby "the kids’ math proficiency improvement ranged from 8 to 198 percent and was completely unrelated to IQ, memory and cognitive-ability tests."
Discovery magazine confirms that: "Brain imaging showed that the children who benefited most had a larger hippocampus, a key memory area, and stronger neural connections between the hippocampus and brain regions involved in long-term memory and habit-building."
These findings, which point to structural differences in the brains of children who respond best to tutoring, could, in future, help us to identify ways to improve the way youngsters are taught math. In the meantime though, we must take any help we can get and hope that we are among those who are able to retain the information that our tutor passes on to us!
Your maths tutor is there to guide you on your way. In addition to their teaching skills, they’ll also provide you with the tools to better complete your Maths exercises.
Are you still waiting to start your maths tutorials? Have a look at our article: 10 Good Reasons to Take Maths Lessons.
There are plenty of different tools to help you in maths. For example:
- Maths videos from teachers wanting to share their passion for teaching and help you
Online maths exercises, quizzes, and questionnaires. Check out Robb World's YouTube Channel, for example!
- Corrected Maths exercises: check out past papers as there is an abundance you can use to improve in maths.
- Datasheets: you can’t get good at Maths if you don’t know all the concepts from the course. Create a system of sheets summarising each concept, each chapter, and the formulae and theories with one or two examples each.
- These reminders will help you to memorise more quickly and retain this knowledge longer.
Learn to Avoid the Common Maths Mistakes
To get good at maths, you don’t always have to take classes, you can also learn to avoid common errors. Focusing on how to avoid these common mistakes is a great way to improve.
- Overconfidence in your own abilities: This can be a bit cocky since your brain needs to use a variety of different of different pieces of knowledge. You also need these different methods to effectively solve problems.
- Wasting time in class: Maths requires that you’ve not only learned your lesson but also understood it. Take your tutorials seriously. They’re really important in terms of your learning.
- Always use your tutorials as support. An opportunity to practice the theories you’ve learned.
- Not correcting exercises: Make sure to correct every exercise you do in order to understand any mistakes you make, monitor your progress, and discover which method has been used in the solution.
- Only studying when you’ve got an exam: Your brain won’t have time to digest all the necessary information. Study regularly and start forming habits to succeed.
- Relying on your calculator for all your calculations: A calculator is just a tool, you need to use it alongside your own knowledge. The result it gives you is dependent on how you put in the information. You should focus on mastering the basic concepts of mental arithmetic. You should also look into learning how to count quickly!
Maths Tuition Tailored to Each Student
Not every student is as smart as Albert Einstein. In fact, each student has their own strengths and weaknesses.
With all these different examples, there’s not a perfect number of maths tutorials to take. A lot depends on the student, their level, the gaps in their knowledge, their motivation, and their ambition.
As we've said, routine is hugely important. It’s the price you have to pay to get good at Maths.
So why not get your organisation in check with a tutor who can tailor lessons to you and the pace at which you work?
Superprof, a leading platform for tutors and students to connect and form working partnerships, offers a user-friendly website on which you can instantly find an online math tutor in your area, as well as those who are able to offer remote online tuition.
There are close to 60,000 tutors listed online who can help you electronically or via video call with your maths concerns. With prices starting from just £5 per hour, you can find someone who can meet your needs and get you moving forward with your math lessons. Some are mathematicians, some are qualified teachers, whilst others are individuals who are talented with numbers and want to pass on their knowledge and skills.
Be sure to read about your prospective tutor and take advantage of the one free lesson policy so that you can get a feel for their teaching methods and work out if you think you will get along in a professional student-teacher manner.
Remember, the cost does not always reflect the person's experience and qualifications but, that said, you do get what you pay for so don't be reluctant to pay for a good tutor and then complain that you haven't learned what you had wanted to!
It is important to have a good relationship with your tutor so that you look forward to your lessons with positivity instead of dreading each time you come into contact.
If you choose or are forced to pick a tutor who does not live nearby, the chances are that they will set you work by sending you documents, and will also schedule some face to face catch ups via Skype or video call to ensure that you benefit from some face to face time as well as just sitting with your head down in formulas and equations.