Joe’s Jotter: performing well in a subject you find difficult
Case Study – Maths
As you settle in to the new academic year, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears.
From speaking with students over the years, I find it’s not the full set of exams that cause concern; it is usually only one or two subjects.
Naturally everyone has their own talents and subjects they prefer – I was better at the sciences than the languages, but I persevered and got the grades I wanted in the languages I chose.
Sometimes subjects you are not looking forward to are the ones that have you on guard and you end up doing better in; a paper on the day can go well in an exam you were dreading. I regularly hear welcome surprise coming from students on results day, with comments such as ‘I didn’t expect that result in ----’.
The moral of the story here is that too much concern about a subject could end in false worry and be draining you of energy – energy you need for revising and getting your head right.
Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’. Of course, it is easier to revise and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others.
Studying and preparing the ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face in school. You must prioritise these subjects on your ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. I will detail how to setup this timetable in a later blog feature. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said: 'One of the secrets in life is making stepping stones out of stumbling blocks.'
Maths is one of those subjects that many students find difficult. To me Maths is about grafting to understand the basics, building your confidence and not being prepared to give up easy.
Always start by attempting the easier topic questions (usually the part a’s and b’s) and subsequently graduating to the part c’s and d’s. You should check your work as you go against a good quality solutions book and thus be constantly ‘learning by doing’.
Here are some of my top tips to improve your performance in Maths (and its exam) at any level.
ACE Maths Tuition’s tips for success
1. Put formulas, explanation of words and keynotes into a little pocket notebook.
2. Practice as many past exam questions as you can and check your answers against a fully developed and explained solutions book.
3. Challenge yourself to try and come up with a second method of doing questions.
4. Try to approach each question from different angles. Always write down something. Do not be afraid of making a mistake.
5. Draw a diagram (if possible) and label it to simplify a question.
6. Be familiar with what is and what is not in your log tables.
7. When studying, exhaust all attempts to answer an exam question before referring to your solutions book. Do not give up easily.
8. Read each question in Maths carefully underlining the key words and phrases.
9. At all levels, if you feel overwhelmed by the length and difficulty of the course – start with basic Algebra.
10. Find yourself a study buddy to share questions and resources with. Discuss problems with each other and encourage.
11. Use various Internet sites as a companion to improve your Maths skills.
12. Consult your teacher about problems with topics or specific Maths questions during and after class.
13. Start by attempting basic questions for each topic, building up to a full exam question. Answer the exact question being asked.
14. The word FAIL in Maths for me means First Attempt In Learning.
15. Do not be afraid to explain a solution to a question with words if you cannot do so with numbers and symbols.
16. Spend five to ten minutes daily going over what you have learned in class.
17. Every time you write down a formula, draw a box around it to help you remember it. Check if this formula is in your log tables. If not, you need to memorise it.
18. Anything that you type into your calculator (related to a question) must be written on your answer book/copy also.
19. Have all resources present when doing Maths questions i.e. Full Maths set, pencil, calculator, and log tables.
20. Third and sixth years, practice as many previous exam questions as you possibly can.
21. Rewrite sample questions from your textbook to get an understanding of the basics.
22. It is ok to look at a solution to a question if you have tried your best to solve it alone. Use the answer to figure out the exact method for the question.
23. Work with groups of friends on harder Maths questions. Bounce ideas off each other in order to understand and learn from their thinking.
24. Always write out every single step of your answer. This will be easy to look back, revise and follow later.
25. Talk positive about subjects you find difficult. Don’t throw away your shot at success by talking your way into failure.
In the next edition of Joe’s Jotter, I will advise second and third year students on how to restart a revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way - Joe.
More details about Joe as a maths tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.