QCE mathematics and the battle with forgetfulness

By Rui Tong in QCE
14th of August 2019
QCE maths tips

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A tutor or teacher might occasionally say there’s not much content in your QCE mathematics subjects. They aren’t necessarily incorrect, but it tends to be backed by bias. It appears to be very little content to them because they’ve had to fight through more of that stuff at university or elsewhere.

But to a student, who’s currently going through the stress and pressure of Year 12, it tends to be another story. The student will argue that there’s a considerable amount of content to get through. And even when a specialist maths student claims methods/general is easy, it may still be too much for another methods/general student. The large content dump (sometimes, content overload) makes forgetfulness something students will be very prone to.

This wasn’t something I was immune to either. I promise you that I forgot heaps of content during my Year 12 studies and panicked about it. These are some of my thoughts on dealing with this issue.


1. Acceptance

Before anything, I just had to accept that I forget things. For a while I was reluctant to even begin studying purely because I didn’t want to believe that I’ve forgotten so much of what I learnt. When I finally moved on, dealing with the forgetfulness was not fun either.

For some of you, this might be worse. Not everything in Units 3&4 builds directly onto Units 1&2. Even when they do, sometimes you might just forget concepts in Units 1&2. To make things worse, the topics are reasonably scattered. You’re basically forced to learn a bit of everything, such as statistics, Earth geometry, time series, vectors, complex numbers and so on. Because of this, it becomes harder to keep track of what you know and using it when you actually need it.

So what? That is the reality. So I just had to accept that my brain failed to retain everything and move on. Ultimately it would only become a worse issue if I didn’t deal with it.


2. Understanding combats forgetfulness

After a few exams I came to learn how beneficial understanding mathematics can be. In many other learning areas like science, understanding is just necessary because you’ll be explicitly examined on it. When it comes to mathematics, the student’s main objective tends to be knowing how to do the problem.

I mean, this is fair enough. The students that get the higher marks are the ones that can do the problems.

But the thing is that they never try to rote learn the concepts, or so I’ve discovered. The most capable students build their intuition well beyond the norm through a more refined understanding of concepts. They will go out of their way to question why something works, rather than stop at how to do it.

Reflecting on why a certain technique/formula works overpowers just blindly attacking a question with it. It helps to think about when you can use said technique/formula again more easily. On one hand, we tend to respond more quickly when we know why something works, and it’s more likely you’d recall more content whilst revising. On the other, even when you’ve absolutely forgotten something and need to relearn it, you’ll be able to puzzle together the ‘why’ question yourself. That’ll help you relearn faster!

QCE maths tips

3. When understanding does not work

“Okay, I tried my best. But I still don’t get it.”

Fair enough – I couldn’t evade rote learning completely. In high school, I never understood combinatorics and occasionally guessed the approach. Even after writing the QCE General Maths Notes, I still have no intuition behind why the Hungarian algorithm works. These things just looked like magic to me.

How did I deal with that? I resorted to rote learning…

Here’s the deal. I did everything in my power to minimise how much rote learning I had to cop. By the time of my exam, there were very few things I did not really get. To combat that as best as I could, I memorised important rules of thumb in tackling such problems. For example, for combinatorics, I just memorised extra little tricks like using the complement and taking cases. If I had to do the Hungarian algorithm in my exam, I would’ve just done 30 or so practice problems until I could do it blindfolded.

If you feel that you have huge gaps in your understanding, you should address them ASAP. Ask your teachers/peers or us about those issues! Somebody will be able to give you greater intuition eventually! (In my opinion, understanding everything perfectly is a near-impossible goal. Your job is to reduce lack of understanding as low as you can.) If you’re interested, you can ask whatever QCE maths questions you have here!


4. Juggling multiple topics

Being confident at say, vectors or financial mathematics once upon a time, doesn’t mean you may still be later on. At the same time, you may have become more confident at topics you’ve only learnt recently.

What tends to happen is that a lot of the topics in your mathematics subjects are somewhat unrelated. For example, not everything a methods student does in statistics will involve calculus, and general maths students don’t care about financial mathematics in networks. The lack of exposure to a certain concept contributes to forgetfulness in a specific section of the syllabus.

How you handle this issue is mostly up to you, but I do have a few suggestions. Firstly, I would consider not doing the review exercises at the end of each chapter, and save it for revision time in case you do forget it. If you decide to use VCE/HSC past exams for practice, target questions on specific topics you have trouble with. You probably shouldn’t neglect all other topics, but you should definitely target your weaknesses more than your strengths.

You may find topic tests available from various sources. These are also a good resource to use where necessary.

Also, keep in mind that some topics are linked in some manner. For example in methods, you may need to incorporate algebraic properties of trigonometric or exponential functions when dealing with the calculus bits. Geometric sequences can prove beneficial when addressing financial mathematics in general maths. Personally, I’ve found that drawing links also helps me memorise content in the past better, simply because it feels like I’m using the same thing over and over again!


5. Never be afraid to make notes or use other resources!

With maths, notes aren’t as much of a necessity because the ultimate focus is on doing the problem. If you do make notes, definitely use them come revision time!

And even if you don’t make notes, don’t ditch your textbook! Your teacher was there to feed you the content the first time. From then on, the textbook is one of your main sources for re-learning content!

Remember to ask your questions on our forum – it’s completely free and anonymous!

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