How to master maths

March 31, 2018

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Illustration by Muhammad Faizan
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan

Maths is like sports, you can’t be passive and hope to do well in it. You have to get actively involved and do the problems if you want to ace maths. You have to get out of your comfort zone to tackle maths problems head on.

Practice and solving all the problems is the way to go. The more you connect with maths, the easier it will become for you.

Having said this, it is also important to note that some people are born with a natural ability to deal with numbers while others struggle with maths all their lives.

A study conducted by John Hopkins University found that “young children with a highly-developed ‘number sense’ — the ability to estimate numbers — were also better at maths tests.” The researchers suggested that this meant “the ability to work with numbers may be something people are born with.”

So those with a natural flair for numbers have it easier than most of us, but they too have to spend time on understanding concepts, practicing and solving problems to do well. The only advantage they have is that they grasp the concepts and solve the problems faster. But everyone has to work hard to ace this subject, just as it is the case with everything else in life.

too have to spend time on understanding concepts, practicing and solving problems to do well. The only advantage they have is that they can grasp the concepts and solve the problems faster. But everyone has to work hard to ace this subject, just as it is the case with everything else in life.

When students get stuck with a problem, they can take heart in the fact that top mathematicians and experts also remain stuck on problems most of the time. The only difference between them and ordinary people doing maths is that they don’t give up and leave the task, they keep at it, trying out different ways to solve the problem until they get the right answer.

Persistence and the determination to keep trying to solve a problem until they are able to do it is their secret of success. And the more challenging a problem is, the more exciting they find it.

Mathematics is an essential life skill as we need to use it every day in so many different forms and, for students, it is essential for most future academic and career opportunities. Here are few basic tips that can help you become maths smart, provided you keep working at it.

Clear concepts

Maths is not about memorising rules and doing rote drills.

Understanding basic concepts is the key here. Maths has a language all its own that expresses the relationships between and interplay of numbers. To grasp this subject, you have to practice its concepts, just like you practice the words and sentences of a new language until you can speak it fluently. Some concepts may require more practice and some require less as each person is naturally inclined to learning a particular branch of mathematics more easily than others. But with regular practice, you will get better in the difficult ones.

Through persistent effort, there will come a time when you will be sailing through question after question like a pro and the excitement you will feel will be worth all the effort you had put in.

Do more than your homework

Doing all the questions you have been given as class work and homework will make you do well in class, but it will not make you a maths whiz. To be better than the rest, you have to solve more maths problems than the rest.

Consider mathematics as art or a craft, like singing, painting or playing the piano. You need to learn it, take lessons from experts, and practice and practice until you can do it like a pro. Singers have to take care of their voice and practice singing regularly, and pianist have to keep playing for hours each day to be in top form.

That’s also true for mathematicians. If you haven’t done a particular kind of problem for a long time, you will most likely get stuck on it. Revising, every now and then, what you have already learnt is the best way to refresh your maths skill.

Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Find the right teacher

To understand maths, you need a good teacher. Picking up a maths textbook and trying to navigate your way through it on your own will only puzzle you. If you can follow your teacher at school and he is able to address all your issues, well and good, otherwise seek the help of a good tutor.

Concepts in maths build upon what has been previously taught so if something isn’t clear, it come up later to haunt you when you are doing a more advance level of those problems.

Write down everything

Often students get their answers wrong because they missed doing all the steps or did some steps mentally and wrote the answer only. This can lead to omission. When you are solving a problem by writing down everything, there are fewer chances of errors.

And if you are doing a step wrong, seeing it in the written form will quickly alert you and you can correct that mistake.

Neatly written answers with numbers and steps clearly visible is also a great help for teachers to easily understand your work and it decreases the chances of confusing the numbers due to sloppy handwriting.

Team up

Maths is a subject where working on sums with others is very helpful as discussions can help clear any confusion. Working in pairs or in groups even in school is a good idea as kids can help each other approach a problem in different ways and understand things better.

Maths is not an easy subject to master, but then everything needs effort if you want to do well at it. Approach maths the right way and you will never get stuck in a problem!

Published in Dawn, Young World, March 31st, 2018