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Solving that maths problem

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Maths is one of those key subjects that we use in different areas of our lives. Many of our degrees at university use some form of maths, and it can be stressful if you don’t feel confident in your maths skills. Here are some top tips to help you master maths no matter your level.

Apply maths problems to real-world situations

Maths can be abstract and tough to understand. Applying it to a real-world scenario can help you better grasp the problem. For example, if you are struggling with probability you could think of A as the event that you catch the train to university and B as the event that you catch the bus. Now it can make it easier to understand what terms like “A” mean (“not A” would mean you do not catch the train).

Break down the problem

Some complex maths problems can be overwhelming when we first start them. The key is to break down the problem into smaller steps that are easier for you to apply.

  1. Start by writing down what you know (pay rate = $25/hour; each shift = 5 hours).
  2. Then what you need to know (I will earn __ when I work 2 shifts)
  3. Plan how you will calculate this (work out the number of hours in 2 shifts and multiply by the pay rate).
  4. Then you can calculate your solution.

Don’t skip your working out

Take your time to work through the problem step-by-step and write your working out in full. Don’t be tempted to skip this step – it’s good practice for tests and exams where you’ll need to show this for full marks. And if you ask for help it’ll be much easier for the other person to follow your logic.

Getting the wrong answer? Check your working in detail

Because you’ve written your working out it’ll be much easier to check your work! Go through your calculations and check for simple mistakes like using the wrong units, dropping a variable from an equation, leaving out a minus sign, using the wrong value or moving decimal places. Sometimes you’re actually really close to the correct answer, you just need to slow down and check.

Still struggling? Try a worked example

Your tutor should be able to provide an example of how to complete a calculation. Seeing the numbers come together in a similar problem may give your brain the jumpstart it needs to work out the problem. You can also try to solve the worked solution problem yourself and check the correct answers as you go. If you can teach yourself from an example, you’ll have a much better chance of completing the calculation on your own.

Focus on understanding rather than memorising

Once you can complete the calculation, go through and try to understand why each step is taken so you can learn to apply them to any question. Just memorising the method, while useful, does not allow you to fully understand the concept. If a question asks something differently to how you may have been previously asked, you need to have a clear understanding of the maths involved to be able to solve it. When demonstrating how to solve a problem, lecturers or other maths tutorials usually provide explanations for why they have taken a particular step to help you with this.

Utilise resources around you

There are so many resources available to help you with maths:

  • Websites like Khan Academy and YouTube have great tutorials for most maths concepts.
  • The UniSkills website has a whole section dedicated to numeracy. They also have guides to help you with Excel and statistics programs like SPSS.
  • The Curtin Library runs numeracy workshops throughout the semester.
  • Sometimes all it takes is to hear a concept explained differently for it to click, so come and see a Peer Academic Mentor or head along to a UniPASS.

If you are struggling with maths, try implementing some of these tips to get you solving equations in no time!

Written by Simonne Brown, Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting and Finance) student and Peer Academic Mentor.