Maths A is underrated in its difficulty. Whilst being one of the lower levels of maths you can do at school, it still requires a considerable knowledge of content. Most importantly, students need the ability to apply that knowledge to difficult situations.
Knowing about depreciation of their car, interest on loans and the total tax that they earn is something that a majority of the population leave to experts – and yet the QCAA demands that you get educated on these topics.
You could even argue that doing Maths A means that you have more common sense than those who do Maths B.
I ask you; is integration going to help someone when they are lost and only have a topographic map to help them find their way out of a valley? I don’t think so.
However, let’s not focus on such a trivial thing like the difference between Maths A and B. This article aims to give you the best possible tips about improving your marks – just like our previous blog about getting an A in Maths B.
Here are 7 ways you can make sure you get an A in Maths A.
1. Don’t bludge, Maths A is hard. Get ahead from the start!
I have a theory:
Everything is difficult if you don’t know how to do it.
We don’t know how to climb trees, but monkeys do. Does that mean monkeys are smarter than us? Probably – but only when it comes to eating bananas and climbing trees. I’m sure if we climbed as many trees as monkeys, and ate as many bananas, we’d be just as good – if not better than monkeys. You never know until you try!
In the same way, if you don’t attempt to be good at Maths A, you won’t be.
Duh, Gyan thanks, great tip, good one.
Seriously though – let’s think about this. Those who don’t take the subject seriously enough are in danger of slipping into a false sense of security:
“I got a C? That’s okay, it’s only Maths A, I can just get better later… I got another C? Yeah that’s okay, I’ve got 2 terms left.”
Too many times I hear this from students who aren’t taking the subject serious enough. The reality is that any subject you take at school is going to impact both your OP and your options going forward, so the best time to get in good habits is early on.
In addition, Maths is a subject that builds upon the skills you learn earlier in the year. If you don’t know a concept and you get another topic added on top of it, all of a sudden you’re revising 2 things.
Get ahead of the game. Know the topics that you’re going to do, even if it’s only their name, and do a Google search if you can’t access any notes. Get to know when the skills are useful and contextualise them for yourself. Get involved in class and ask those questions. The more passionate you get early, the less work you’ll leave for yourself at the end. You’ll no longer be catching up – you’ll be flying ahead of the rest.
Trust me, you’ll thank yourself in Term 4 when the big decisions are looming.
2. Maths is another language – learn it
One of the first things I do with my students in tutoring is make a Maths glossary.
The advantages of this are simple: They not only give people a reference point for different mathematical terms, but glossaries also store most of the core concepts a student learns in one place. This is especially useful for topics like financial maths, statistics, and coordinate geometry, which uses a few different ideas and concepts.
If someone asks you to find the mode but you find the median, or someone asks you to find the equation of the tangent to the curve and you find some arbitrary equation by fiddling around with numbers, it shows a lack of knowledge and you will be marked down.
See? Even that sentence alone features around 5 or 6 different terms that you must know inside out!
You need to be confident with what each different term means, and what you need to do to get to those different values.
For example, if you don’t know how to get to a gradient in coordinate geometry, how can you get to know the formula of the line on which 2 points are? How can you calculate the equation of a line parallel to that line going through another 2 points?
If you don’t know your mathematical language, that sentence makes no sense. It’s simple maths to do, but knowing the names of the processes you’re doing and knowing when to carry out those processes is the key to mathematics.
We’ll touch on the processing side of things a little later. For now, know your terms!
3. Practice questions – you need to do them but you also need to do them well
“PRACTICE QUESTIONS!” I hear you scream. “I NEED TO STUDY MATHS BY DOING JUST PRACTICE QUESTIONS UNTIL MY BRAIN EXPLODES AND THEN I’LL GET IT!”
Well, not completely – but it’s how you do these questions that makes the difference.
There’s 3 general methods that people try when they’re doing practice questions. The first 2 I’m going to describe are ineffective, the last one is the most effective and we’ll explain the pros and cons along the way.
- Reading the question, thinking “that’s easy” as you look at their explanation of the answer, and then simply writing down the answer.
Actually doing the question is a key part of practice questions. If you don’t do the question in its entirety during practice, you teach your brain only to acknowledge the cheat answer, not the actual practice. Exams and assignments don’t have answer sheets – in an exam, this method will bite you in the back.
There’s no excuse for only doing part of the question, either. Partly doing the question, and then looking at the answer, is essentially saying, “I know it’s hard, but I’m going to cheat and try to get ahead by not problem solving or persevering”.
One of my favourite sayings is “you can’t intend your way to success”. In exercise, it doesn’t matter how much you intend to exercise – you’re only going to see improvements if you actually exercise. It’s the same with mathematics – that’s why we like to call tutoring Academic Personal Training.
- Writing out the question and answers completely
Now, that may surprise you – you may believe that Method 2 is, technically, the perfect thing to do. It is – if you’d like a C or a B grade. It helps your brain to an answer in an exam, and qualms some of the worries and concerns about weird number, odd decimal places, and so on. However, it is is not the optimal method.
So, what is?
- Write out the question, do the working out, write the answer, and cross analyse.
It may not sound like much of a difference, but doing analysis of your work is absolutely crucial towards getting an A in Maths A. Complete your questions, practice it yourself, and then analyse your method against that of the textbook, or teacher’s, or your tutors. If you make mistakes, look over your working, and have an educational advisory (aka your tutor or teacher) who can show you where you went wrong.
Then, write out the entire question again.
This allows your brain to commit it to memory. You want to make sure you learn from every mistake, so as to apply the proper process to any similar questions.
Only by doing this method do you use practice questions to your full advantage.
4. Practice when you want and with what you want
Doing practice exams and questions sounds like a drag – and, I won’t lie, sometimes it is.
What you want to do is challenge your brain as much as possible, but not burn out. Practice can often bring on brain fatigue, and eventually force people to stare into space or mindlessly scroll through their Facebook feeds.
My solution is to be smart about what and when you study.
I personally base my study on the when and where. If I have a task that takes a large amount of brain power – for example, a MAPS question – I intentionally put myself in a study space that is perfect and individualised to my needs. For me, that means a silent room, with no one else around and nothing to distract me. I make sure that the work creates a challenge for me, so I don’t get bored. If the question itself is boring, I try to make it interesting – since I love sports and physics, I tend to transform my questions into a problem surrounding sports or physics.
Even if I’m tired after university, and don’t feel like studying, I make sure to do little mundane tasks that I know need to be done. They’re often things that can be done quite mindlessly – for example, writing out notes, doing simple knowledge questions (like drawing graphs or putting values in a table), or completing easy homework sheets. This just helps to keep my brain active, and actually gets the small things out of the way easily!
It’s up to you to identify what helps you best prepare, and do little seemingly useless things to help make your work interesting for you. If you’re finding it difficult to do this, get help from A Team Tuition! Our tutors are trained specifically to help you adapt your learning to your interests, learning language, and personal style.
The key message from this paragraph is to study with what you like, when you like, and where you like – you’ll find that it will cause you to want to study, rather than having it be a chore.
5. Own being basic
Basic skills are paramount in Maths A.
If you don’t know your times tables, guess what you do early on if you’re one of my clients?
You learn them like it’s nothing else.
If you can’t add, multiply, divide and subtract quickly and without a calculator, you are wasting valuable seconds per question in an exam punching numbers into a machine.
Being basic is nothing to be afraid of. If you’re heading into your Year 11 Maths class, no matter what it is, and you know that you don’t have these skills, guess what: you need to learn them ASAP.
Learn them alongside school work. You’ll start to notice your in-school skills improve because you now can do the arithmetic that you were doing on your fingers, or in the calculator in your head. This means you have more time to actually study the question and process that is required of you.
In addition (pun intended), your confidence in Maths A goes through the roof when you know that you can do the multiplication that you struggled with initially, and it makes the subject a lot less stressful.
Other skills that need to be up to scratch are using a ruler, using a compass, the conversions of time (hours to seconds), distance (kilometres through to centimetres), and speed (km/h to m/s).
Don’t forget calculator skills themselves! That seems redundant, but if you know how to use your calculator, you’ll be able to get to answers that involve complex processes quicker. You especially want to know how the memory function works, as you can use that in multi stage questions.
Everyone’s calculator is different, so ask your teacher to teach you, or ask someone with the same calculator how they do it. It will help you in the long run.
6. Processes and Processing are 2 different things, but equally important
MAPS questions are hard.
For those of you who don’t know, MAPS stands for Modelling and Problem Solving and, simply put, these questions ensure that you are able to put the PROCESSES that you learn about into a practical situation. This requires some PROCESSING.
In order to be able to do some PROCESSING you need to be able to do the PROCESSES first.
That is why you get to do a lot of exercises first for homework, and you learn how to find different values, like the median or average speed. These are the PROCESSES that you learn.
However, say someone gives you a grocery list. They then ask you to find the median and mean price, and explain the difference between the 2 different answers. You will then have to decide how to answer the question. This is PROCESSING.
You need to be able to know the situations in which different PROCESSES are needed, and the only way to know that is by exposing yourself to as many different situations as possible.
This is where practice questions do come in. They’re not solely there for you to learn your skills – they’re there for you to learn creativity and innovation as well. If you can learn how each different part of an equation works, and what it means in different situations, you increase your ability to adapt and problem solve when you’re given certain values similar situations in the future.
Knowing the difference between when to spit out a formula on a page or change the formula to suit your purpose is incredibly useful.
To provide a nerdy example that demonstrates how much I love Maths A:
If you forget the depreciation formula, you can use the appreciation formula for depreciation. This is possible as long as the indices used are less than 1 and greater than 0, and there’s different ways to find the gradient of a line.
There’s a difference being knowing content and being able to apply it. That is a balance you will have to manage. The only thing that improves this ability is time, and constantly analysing mistakes.
This leads us to our final tip:
7. Errors are your best friend – learn from them
Getting something wrong should be acknowledged as the greatest way to learn.
There’s no greater motivator than the sudden realisation that you’ve made a mistake, and the knowledge that you need to work even harder to get back on top of work. People can scramble like their life depends on it in these situations.
I personally believe that mistakes should motivate you through the journey of Maths A.
Let it be known: you will make mistakes, and it will be different for everyone. Some people will make the mistake of being overconfident as I alluded to earlier; some people will make the mistake of leaving an assignment too late; and you all will get numerous questions wrong.
My advice is to learn from the mistakes, and never make the same mistakes twice! You need to put safeguards against your previous mistake. These safeguards could be simply starting an assignment a week earlier next time, or doing work every week for the assignment as opposed to only for the week you start it and the week you hand it in.
Write down these safeguards and put them in a place where you’re going to see them daily. Make them a goal to achieve! Having them down on paper will prove beyond helpful.
Most importantly, develop a mindset that accepts mistakes. It is impossible to not make mistakes – therefore, focus on what is possible: learning how to analyse, assess, and improve on your mistakes. It’s a skill that will not only influence your Maths A journey, but your whole life to come.
How to get an A in other ATAR subjects
Aiming high? If you’re focused on being offered a highly competitive university placement, you’ll find the starter guides to getting As in all your key subjects. Start here, you could end up a straight A student.
By Gyan Wijekulasuriya