Is Specialist Maths Worth It? 7 Steps to Master Maths

Universally recognised as the hardest subject in Australia’s High School curriculum, succeeding in Maths Specialist Maths (Previously Maths C) is no easy feat. I know from my own experience that sometimes even surviving at the start might seem impossible becuase it just moves so fast, and it can feel so easy to get left behind.

What Is Specialist Mathematics?

Specialist Mathematics is a senior level, ATAR Maths course offered in most high schools. The course builds upon the foundational topics covered in the standard mathematics courses and delves into more advanced concepts, techniques, and applications. It covers a wide range of mathematical areas, including calculus, algebra, functions, vectors, complex numbers, matrices, and statistics.

Is Specialist Maths Hard?

The content of Specialist Mathematics is usually more abstract, rigorous, and challenging compared to the standard mathematics courses. It aims to develop students’ critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and mathematical reasoning skills. S

Is Specialist Maths Harder Than Methods?

The difficulty of Specialist Mathematics compared to Mathematical Methods can vary depending on an individual’s strengths and interests. However, generally speaking, Specialist Mathematics is considered more challenging than Mathematical Methods. Specialist Mathematics often requires a higher level of mathematical rigor and abstract thinking. It may involve more complex problem-solving techniques and require a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. However, it’s important to note that individual experiences may vary, and what one person finds difficult, another may find easier based on their strengths and preferences.

Who Should Take Specialist Maths?

Students who enrol inSpecialist Mathematics often have a strong interest in mathematics, or plan to pursue further studies or careers in mathematics, science, engineering, or related fields. With the ATAR system, students should play to their strengths and take Specialist Maths if they’re going into a math-heavy field, such as engineering. Otherwise, the ATAR system encourages studentst to enrol in classes that accompany what they’re good at.

How to Master Specialist Maths

By following the 7 steps outlined below, succeeding in Specialist Maths just became much easier. Following these strict principles myself landed me a VHA by the end of Year 12, and there’s no reason you can’t achieve the same too.

Step 1: Master the Basics of Maths

If you were fortunate enough to have taken Specialist Maths as an elective in Year 11, you will have gained a solid understanding of vectors, matrices and all those other fascinating concepts. Yet even if you didn’t get that opportunity, there’s no reason to feel left out! Everything you need to succeed in your exams will be taught in your classes, and it is merely a question of how well you learn the content. But where do you start? Master the basics. This may seem like such a generic, recycled piece of advice. Yet unfortunately, it is the springboard to success in Specialist Maths.

A lot of the topics you will encounter in Specialist Maths are incredibly complex. Most flow on from topics learnt previously in the term and culminate in the exam where you will undoubtedly face a seemingly impossible mash of concepts in the one MAPS question. So, you need to know where to start.

It goes without saying that success in Specialist Maths flows from success in Maths B (if you haven’t read that blog post yet either, get your eyes around it here!). A lot of the basic concepts in Maths B will be elaborated upon in Specialist Maths. Use this to your advantage.

Concepts You Should Have Mastered

A list of concepts that I would regularly re-visit until I have them mastered includes:

  • Index laws
  • Trigonometry
  • Derivatives and Integration,
  • Areas and Gradients of Curves
  • Probabilities

As you progress through Year 11 and into Year 12 Specialist Maths, I would add the following to the list of concepts you should have mastered:

  • Vectors
  • Matrices
  • Real and Imaginary Numbers

All of these topics will rear their heads throughout Specialist Maths, and often will be incorporated into (particularly MAPS) questions in exams without having been re-visited that term in class.

That’s why staying on top of these core concepts, along with adding more to your list as you progress through, is so important in achieving good marks in Specialist Maths. 

The subsequent boost in confidence that comes with this complete understanding of the basics is invaluable. From here, the transition to the ‘harder’ topics is much easier and it is where you will set yourself up for later success.


Step 2: Communicate With Your Tutor & Teacher 

Sure, your Specialist Maths teacher might seem unapproachable. Or they might not. Either way, they’re always going to be your best resource. A positive relationship with your teacher is incredibly important.

Due to the sheer volume of concepts your teacher is going to have to cover, the pace is break-neck. You will fly through vectors, matrices, probabilistic models and imaginary numbers before you can blink.

Every teacher has a specific way they want ‘working out’ demonstrated throughout assignments and exams. In Specialist Maths, particularly in complex dynamics and vector questions, the more working out, the better.

Whenever you start to feel like you’re falling behind or struggling with a concept (and trust me, it happens to everyone), the first person you should go to is always your teacher.

Whether it be before or after class, or during a lunch break, try to find a time where you can ask the teacher to go back over any problem areas you have identified. They will always be willing to find time for you somewhere, so make the most of this! As long as you are always polite and positive, they will do their utmost to help you through any tricky spots.

The sooner you establish a positive relationship with your teacher, the better. When exams and assignments start to roll in this will prove to be a massive hand-up on your pathway to an A.

Step 3: Take Your Maths Assignments Seriously

Assignments are bittersweet in Specialist Maths. They provide an excellent opportunity to improve your overall grade within the subject. However, treating them lightly can result in a frantic, last-minute attempt to try and cram days of work into a few hours. Sure, you might get it done, but you won’t have maximised the opportunity to really boost your overall grade.

Every time you finish an equation or solve a step of the problem, you should have at least an explanatory sentence afterwards. At the end of every portion of the assignment (e.g. Question 1, 2 and 3) you should have at least a concluding paragraph, if not several, that covers bases such as the reasonableness of the model you built, the validity of it, assumptions you made and strengths and limitations. Taking the time to add in all those extra words is really worth it when you consider the A at the end.

Most Specialist Maths teachers want structured assignments, that usually involve a ‘simple’ model being built in Part 1, improved in Part 2 and finally applying it to a more complex scenario in Part 3. Obviously, this may vary, but the overall point remains the same.

Learn the structure your teacher wants, make sure you include discussions and an analysis of your models throughout your assignment, and work with them to draft it throughout.

If you have access to past exemplar assignments, even if the topic is different, make sure you use them!

And finally, make the most of your peers. The other students in your class will be your second-best resource (behind the teacher) to improve your work. Creating a study group, where several of you brainstorm through the assignment problem together, will be incredibly beneficial. Whilst you obviously will individualise your assignments, working and discussing the problem in a group scenario might just give you that ‘light-bulb’ moment. Remember, no matter how challenging they might seem, these assignments are a massive opportunity to get A’s in Specialist Maths.

Young man sitting on the floor using laptop surrounded with great number of different things

Step 4: Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail. Particularly in Dynamics and Complex Planes

The hardest topics in Specialist Maths, from Dynamics, to Simple Harmonic Motion, through to Euler’s theorem, and back across to Hooke’s law, can all become massively time consuming. It can be easy to get stuck going through Dynamics questions for hours, at the obvious detriment to other topics and even your other subjects.

It’s easier to say but try not to let yourself get sucked down that path too badly. If you’re struggling with something, ask your teacher (or your Academic Personal Trainer) for help, and keep working through your study.

Dividing the term into manageable, week by week portions allows you to avoid the stress of trying to over-study in the last few days before an exam and puts you on the right track to an A.

Sticking to your study calendar, even as the term hits its busiest points, is so important. Be it a calendar in your study/room, reminders in your phone or your homework diary, plan your term out!

Writing it down helps to keep you accountable, with the personal satisfaction of being able to tick off completed tasks at the end of every week. Organisation and time-management are crucial components of achieving A’s in Specialist Maths. If you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.

Needing extra help? Find a tutor who specialises in Specialist Maths

Step 5: Don’t Forget About Time-Management

This flows on pretty closely from the last segment; time-management is another critical step to doing well in Specialist Maths. Be it throughout the term, completing assignments or on exam day, time-management is a skill that can be perfected to help you achieve your goals.

Generally speaking, you should be aiming for at least 30-45 minutes of Specialist Maths study per day. Whilst doing more can never hurt, if you are utilising that time efficiently every day you should start to see serious results. Don’t just let that time slip away.

Resist the urge to check your phone every couple of minutes.

It may be tempting, but it just slows you down in the long run. Get your study done quickly and have personal time afterwards. The same thing goes for getting stuck on a difficult question.

If a part of the homework, or just a general concept, is proving to be a time bomb, don’t let that take up your whole study block. Attempt it as best you can, and then keep working through other topics or questions as efficiently as possible. The same goes for exams.

Step 6: Get Cozy with Your Calculator

Particularly in any term where you have covered probability models, permutations or exponential or binomial distributions, learning the different functions of your calculator that applies to the relevant concept is so important. Paying very very careful attention to any processes your teacher demonstrates on the calculator can make a massive difference come exam time.

All those buttons that remain a mystery to you? Learn them. If dedicating a tiny portion of time to figuring out your calculator properly scores you an A, then that’s an easy choice. At the end of the year, you definitely do not want to be in a situation where you’re missing out on that VHA because of an easy missed MAPS question. Please don’t let that be you.


Step 7: Learn from your Mistakes

The magical last step to succeeding in Specialist Maths. If you’ve followed the rest of the guide properly, you’ve given yourself the best possible chance of succeeding in this subject.

However, you’re still probably going to make mistakes along the way unless you’re that student who scored a perfect VHA 10 and didn’t lose a mark all year. For the rest of us mortals, we will make mistakes and that’s fine, everyone does. Just make sure you learn from them. Don’t let a vector question trip you up twice.

Take the time to read through your exams when you get them back, and recognise the areas you didn’t do well in. Use the break between the end of your exam and the start of the following term to build your knowledge of these areas.

A gap in your knowledge that is left unattended will almost undoubtedly re-surface before the end of the year. If you still just can’t quite ‘get it’, then A Team is right here.  Getting an Academic Personal Trainer could just be that last step you need to achieve your goal of an A in Specialist Maths

If you’ve read through the entirety of this blog, you’ve already given yourself the best possible start to achieving this.

Is Specialist Maths Worth It?

Are you considering taking the challenge Specialist Maths offers but you feel like you don’t have what it takes? Let our expert team of tutors guide you through the journey of mastering one of the harder levels of maths.

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