Are you struggling with maths? Feeling like you'll never be good at it? Or maybe you love the subject and are looking for ways to excel even further. Whatever your level or goals, there are some simple things you can do to improve.
In this article, we'll share 9 proven strategies that will not only help you get better at maths but also give you the confidence to succeed in all areas of logical reasoning and mathematical thinking.
1. Focus on building a number sense
One of the best ways to improve your maths skills is to focus on building a number sense. This means understanding what numbers represent, and being able to work with them confidently in your head. Start by practising basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and try to do as much as you can without using a calculator.
Students should be able to look at their answer and say 'that seems too big'. Always unpack your thinking and ask 'why did I do that?' or 'does this make sense?'. Or simply recognise when you're guessing and not using logic to arrive at a solution. Here are 4 practical ways to build a solid number sense:
Understand place value
Place value is understanding the value of each digit in a number. It's a critical foundation for Maths success and a basic math skill that students often struggle with.
A good way to understand place value is by using physical objects to represent numbers. Using blocks, counters or even coins, students can physically move around the digits to help them understand what each number represents.
Learn your times tables
Probably the only thing you need to memorise when learning math is your times tables. The sooner you can recall your tables mentally, with speed - the better. Don't wait till grade 6 to begin practising them. By grade 4, you should be able to recite all of them without much thought.
Estimate and reflect
Students should understand how to estimate their answer before they calculate it. This is a good way to check if your answer makes sense. For example, if you're asked to subtract 50 from 2000 and your answer is near 1000, you know you've done something wrong.
You should always take a moment to think about whether the answer is reasonable. If it isn't, you can go back and check your work. This reflection habit will stay with you long after you leave school.
Mental Maths strategies
Mental maths is a great way to improve math skills. Learn to solve math problems in your head, without using a calculator or pen and paper. This might sound difficult, but there are loads of simple mental math strategies you can use to make things easier.
For example, when adding 9 to any number, you can just add 10 and then subtract 1. So if you're trying to add 9 + 7 in your head, you can do it like this: 10 + 7 = 17, 17 - 1 = 16.
2. Understand the concept - Don't memorise a process
A common mistake students make is memorising math formulas or a process without understanding the concept behind it. For example, many students memorise the steps for adding fractions without knowing the reason for making the denominators the same. As a result, they can confuse this process with other fraction operations.
We must understand the WHY behind each concept, not just the HOW. Once you understand the basic concepts, you'll be able to apply them in different ways and solve problems more easily.
Here are 3 ways to get you going:
Use real-world examples
Whenever you're learning new math concepts, try to think of everyday life situations. This will help you understand why the concept is important, which is more likely to cement the idea in your mind.
For instance, when you're learning about percentages, think of a time when you had to calculate a discount at the store. Or if you're learning about ratios, consider the different ingredients you use when cooking.
Draw pictures or use a visual representation
Another great way to understand new concepts is to draw pictures and diagrams. This can be especially helpful if you're a visual learner.
When you're learning about fractions, draw a picture of a pizza being shared between people. Or if you're learning about angles, draw a picture of a clock face. This will help you visualise mathematical concepts and make them easier to understand.
Try to make connections
Whenever you're learning something new, try to make connections to other concepts you already know. This will help you understand the new concept more deeply and see how it fits into the big picture.
We find many students haven't realised that fractions, decimals and percentages are different representations of the same idea. So if you're struggling to understand one, try linking it to the others.
3. Celebrate your mistakes with a growth mindset
A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed. This means that even if you're finding maths difficult, you can still improve with hard work and persistence.
People with a growth mindset see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. So instead of getting discouraged by your mistakes, use them as a chance to improve your understanding.
Here are some things you can do:
Mistakes are a natural and essential part of learning. So instead of being afraid to make them, learn to embrace them. Instead of erasing your incorrect working out, leave it there with a cross and write a note with what you learnt.
Practice, practice, practice
It's simple - the more you practice maths, the better you'll become. So whenever you get a chance, do some extra math problems. You can even try teaching someone else. Just like sport, math requires consistent practice.
Seek out challenges
Don't be afraid of challenging yourself. If a problem is too easy, try something harder. This will help push you out of your comfort zone and force you to encounter new ideas.
4. Learn the art of problem-solving
To become a better problem solver, it's not about knowing the answers, but learning how to ask the right questions. This will help you understand the problem and figure out what information you need to solve it.
We often encourage our students to implement Polya's 4-step process for solving math problems:
Understand the problem. (Recognise what is being asked)
Devise a plan. (Respond to what is asked)
Carry out the plan. (Develop the result of the response)
Look back. (Reflect: What does the result tell me?)
Understand the problem
The first step is to read the question carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked of you. Look for words like 'how much', 'more than', 'difference', 'evaluate', 'simplify' etc and ask yourself:
Do you understand all the words?
Can you restate the problem in your own words?
Do you know what is given?
Do you know what the goal is?
Is there enough information?
Is there extra information?
Is this problem similar to another problem you have solved?
Devise a plan
Once you understand the math problem, the next step is to devise a plan. This is where you decide what method you will use to solve the problem. It's often helpful to try different methods to see which one works best for you.
Remember, there are always multiple ways to get to the answer. Some common strategies include:
Making a list
Drawing a picture
Using a formula
Guessing and checking
Solving a simpler, related problem
Carry out the plan
The third step is to carry out your plan and solve the problem. This is where you do the actual work of solving the problem.
Implement your strategy from step 2
Check each step as you proceed
The fourth and final step is to look back at your work, analyse your approach and check that your answer makes sense.
Did you get the right answer?
If not, can you figure out where you went wrong?
Can you check your work using a different method?
What have you learnt from this problem?
This final step is critical and one that's often not taught at school in math class. It helps you understand your mistakes and learn from them. It also allows you to reflect on your work and see how far you've come.
Remember, we often have to travel down a path in order to realise that we took the wrong turn!
5. Keep your work neat and organised
It's vital to keep your work neat and organised so that you can go back and check it later. This will also help you to see your progress and spot patterns in your mistakes.
Unfortunately at school, many students are not being taught HOW to learn and study math. But just like learning any language, there are a number of layout conventions, which are considered basic math skills, we can use to improve outcomes.
There's no reason why a primary school student should wait till year 7 or 8 before they start using them. Here are 7 workbook hacks to help you learn math in a more effective and comprehensive way:
Label each page with the date, topic name and problem number
Leave space between each problem so that you can come back and add notes later
Always show working out, where necessary
Rule a line down the middle of every page
Correct your own work using ticks and crosses
If you get a wrong answer, re-do the question working your way to the correct answer
Write down key definitions and 'aha moments' for every topic
6. Adopt the mastery mindset approach
Mindset matters. A lot. When it comes to math learning, the belief that you can get better and the willingness to put in the hard work to do so is critical to success.
We tell all our students that mistakes are not only okay but essential for learning. We encourage them to see mistakes as a sign that they are pushing themselves and growing their brain. This helps them to become more resilient and persistent in the face of challenging problems.
Flip your thinking
One way to develop a mastery mindset is by using positive self-talk. This involves talking to yourself in a positive way—re-writing your narrative—even when you make a mistake. For example, instead of saying "I'm so bad at maths," try saying "I'm getting better at maths every day." Or instead of "I don't know" we can say "I haven't understood this yet".
Set smart goals
When you set a goal, it gives you something to strive for and helps you to see the progress you are making. It's also a great way of taking ownership of your journey and your skillset.
Some goals you could set for yourself are:
I will practice maths daily (30 minutes)
I will attempt 5 enrichment questions a week
I will ask my teacher for help when I'm stuck on a problem
Ask for feedback
Feedback is information that you can use to understand how well you are doing and what areas you need to work on. When giving or receiving feedback, remember that it should be constructive. The best feedback is specific, objective and actionable.
Feedback is a powerful tool that can help you to improve your understanding of underlying concepts and identify areas where you need to focus your efforts.
7. Take your time - Learning math is not a race
Learning math is not about speed. For the best results, you should learn maths at your own pace and in a way that makes the most sense to you.
Everyone learns in different ways and at different rates. Some people learn best by doing, some by listening, and some by seeing. Discover what works best for you and then keep working at it.
Einstein said it best - “It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.”
Develop fundamental fluency within a topic
Take your time and understand a new concept before moving on to the next one. Maths is accumulative, which means every math idea you learn builds on the ones that come before it. And at the same time, every topic is also connected. Once you have grasped the fundamentals of a particular subject, only then can you consolidate this knowledge with practice.
Revisit complex problems
Learn to go back and look at problems that you found difficult. Don't just move on and forget about them. Whether it's basic arithmetic, number skills or complex equations, revisiting old problems will help you to understand them better.
Enjoy the struggle
The best way to practice math is by struggling with the material and then finally understanding it. This transition from "individual struggle to success with support and guidance" is called the zone of proximal development and it's where true learning happens.
Stay with problems longer
We often find ourselves 'stuck' and unable to solve a problem. The urge to move on is strong, but you should try to resist this temptation and stay with the problem a little longer.
There are two things that happen when we persist with a problem: first, we learn how to persevere and second, we give our brains time to process the information and find a solution.
8. Use a variety of resources
When you're solving problems, it's great to have a few different resources that you can turn to for help. This could be anything from a study group or family member, to free online math classes or even your school textbook.
Find the resource that best suits your specific needs and helps you to foster a solid understanding.
Different resources work well for different people and for different topics. There is no one-size-fits-all. The best advice we can give is to expose yourself to a wide range of mediums. Explore youtube videos, copy out step-by-step instructions, play with online apps, etc. This way you'll soon discover what works for you and what doesn't.
Here are two of our favourite free online resources:
Prodigy is an online math game that's beloved by over 50 million kids around the world. It covers 1st to 8th grade math and is relatively aligned with the Australian National Curriculum. A gamified program that makes learning mathematics fun and engaging.
Khan Academy is a fantastic online resource with thousands of explainer videos, articles and worked solutions. It does extend beyond Maths and we particularly like their practice exercises, which are very similar to what you might find on a school test.
9. Seek help from an experienced maths tutor
There are many math tutors and math courses available, both in-person and online. It's best to find one who best suits your individual needs.
Finding the right tutor can make a big difference in your understanding and enjoyment of maths. Some things to consider when choosing a tutor:
Are they experienced in teaching maths?
Do they have a good understanding of the content?
Can they provide customized lesson plans?
Do they offer flexible scheduling options?
How do they track progress?
The problem with many math tutoring services is they focus on drilling you with practice worksheets. While this is important, it's only one part of the equation.
A good tutor will help you to understand the 'why' behind the process, work on problem-solving strategies, consolidate your knowledge through inquiry-based discussion and inspire you to fall in love with learning.
At Math Minds, we make sure lessons are relevant as much as they are engaging. It's not enough to just understand processes, you need to be able to apply them to daily life situations. With the proper context, maths can seem a lot less daunting and a lot more useful.
Personalised to your needs
We believe that everyone has the potential to excel in maths with the right guidance and support. Our team of highly qualified tutors are experienced in teaching students of all abilities, from those who have loads of catch-up to those aiming to get ahead.
Flexible and convenient
Our sessions are conducted both in-person and online, which makes it easy and convenient for busy families. We also offer a flexible make-up policy so you can reschedule lessons from your phone, with just a few clicks.
If you're looking for a maths tutor Melbourne - we've got you covered. Contact us today to find out more about our individualised lessons and our unique methodology. Better yet, book your free online assessment and our program manager will tailor a lesson plan just for you.
Maths is an essential life skill that we all need to master. By following the simple tips and practical advice in this article, you can give yourself a head start in becoming more confident and competent in maths.
Whether you're a student struggling to keep up, or a parent wanting to support your child's education, there is always room to improve.
It all starts with the right mindset. Maths is a journey. It's about exploration - not speed. Learning fearlessly and embracing the twists and turns is what will help you reach your full potential.
Always sharpen your 'number sense', understand the 'why', and ask lots of questions throughout the process of solving a problem. Don't be afraid to seek expert help, whether that's from an online resource or a certified mentor. Constantly challenge yourself, keep your work tidy and of course, enjoy the ride!
The beauty of Maths is that it can be found everywhere, in everything. It is the universal language that helps us to make sense of the world around us. So next time you're stuck on a problem, remember to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
With the right resources and support, everyone has the potential to excel and get better at math. The most important thing is to keep practising and believing in yourself. Remember, mistakes are just proof that you are growing. So what are you waiting for? Level up your skills and discover a new way of learning maths today!