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Study Skills
Study SkillsMaths

Study Skills offers tips on how to revise and cope with course work

Learning has to be an active process. Learning can be successful both working on your own and working with a friend as long as you both equally participate in an exchange of knowledge and ideas.

It is essential for your mind to be active when you are determined to learn something new. You also need to do something physical:
  • draw a diagram
  • sketch a graph
  • make a spreadsheet
  • add up a column of figures
How to be an 'active learner'
  • By learning with someone else, a friend or adult. For example in learning your tables you need to be buzzed with them and have them corrected by someone who knows them accurately if you get them wrong.
  • By testing yourself, for example in learning new facts or a formula. Write the facts down, cover them up, see if you still remember, hang them on the wall of your room, can you repeat them in the morning?
  • By learning new skills. For example, measuring angles or using a pair of compasses or making box and whisker diagrams on the computer. Use the tools until you feel that you are able to use them confidently.
  • By learning to follow a procedure with many steps, for example, solving a simultaneous equation or adding fractions. Follow through a number of examples, then do them again by yourself then make up some of your own and check them by using a calculator. Repetition is often necessary so that the routine is properly absorbed.
  • By learning through listening. Listening to your teacher in class can be difficult, ask questions to ensure that you have understood a new idea correctly or when you are puzzled. Teachers love answering questions!
  • By learning to solve problems. Gather the facts and see if you can think what knowledge of maths will help in the solution of the problem. It might be some theorems in geometry that you have used or knowing the properties of a regular pentagon or understanding the use of coordinates in three dimensions. In exam questions, all the facts are usually essential to the solution of the problem. That is not often true in real life, you have to select for yourself.
  • By learning through teaching. As soon as you try to teach somebody some new idea or what a new maths word means, you will find out immediately whether you really understand and whether they have grasped the idea correctly from you. Try it, it really works well.
What factors make for truly active learning?
  • Find a time and a space where there are likely to be few distractions. Make it as comfortable as possible. Keep the volume down on your music if you like listening as you work and don't watch TV at the same time. Much better to stop, watch the interesting programme and then return to learning mode.
  • When you are preparing for a test or exam, there is only a limited amount of time available. Sit and plan out when you are going to have time to learn. How many days are left? Remember other activities and family commitments will soak up your free time.
  • When you are learning, don't spend too long on any one topic. Change to another subject if necessary to refresh yourself and then you can come back to the enjoyment of learning maths! It certainly is a rest from writing.
  • Always set yourself some goal to be achieved: one question to be answered, get to the end of the exercise, get to the top of the next page, until you have three correctly done in a row. Then give yourself some reward. Go out with your friends, get some exercise, eat, but don't do it unless you honestly deserve it!
  • Keep those around you, father, mother, step-dad, step-mum, older brothers or sisters aware of what you are doing so that they can lend support when it is needed.
The purpose of all this learning should be that you are discovering new and interesting ideas. It's an opportunity to prove to yourself that you have mastery of them. This should really be sufficient reason to study. In the end, of course, you have to prove this to other people, in exams or in tests. Some people love them others hate them.

Some General Maths Tips
  • When answering any maths questions, you must make every attempt to show how you reached your answer. Maths teachers endlessly say 'Show your working!' So don't do it all in your head and then just write down the answer.
  • Surprisingly, your work has to be marked by humans many with very busy lives. They cannot read it if your handwriting is not legible. If it cannot be read, you can't expect any marks however good it is.
  • Making mistakes in an exam is not a crime. Just cross them through with a single line. Often you may get credited for something that you thought was wrong. Never waste your time by obliterating your work!
  • Keep an eye on the time and never get stuck on a particular question. Abandon it if you can't do it and go on to another. You may find that later you can come back in a cooler frame of mind and do it perfectly well.
  • Never fret after the exam about the mistakes you have made. Post mortems - discussing with your friends your answers that you cannot really remember - are a waste of time. They cannot change a single mark!
  • There are often instructions (the rubric) on the front cover of the exam. Read and follow them carefully especially the request to write your name! There are no marks for it but the whole lot is lost if your paper cannot be identified.
  • Don't try to revise very close to the exam especially the evening before or even the morning before - it will make very little difference and probably will just get you into a flap. So don't. Better to get a good night's sleep.
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