How NOT to study for your mathematics subjects!

By Rui Tong in QCE
18th of June 2019
qce maths

You’re probably used to hearing about advice on what you could do to study. I mean, every student is different right? For example, some students will prepare a small book full of formulas/techniques/examples, add to it, and consistently use it throughout the year. Yet for others it may be a waste of time, because they won’t ever think to touch it.

Some may say that you must spend a certain amount of hours studying maths every week or fortnight, and this may or may not include time for exam preparation. Others will disagree, potentially because they prefer mixing things up week by week.

These are very subjective, but is there ever anything nobody should ever try at all? Here are some of my recommendations!


1. Overdo studying mathematics!

At the start of the month leading up to mathematics, many people realise how much they’ve just forgotten over time. Trying to study it constantly and in extremely large bursts will not get you anywhere. Sometimes, you do need a break from it.

After a certain amount of short, but consistent study-blocks, things will come back to you! As an example, try aiming to study for 1-2 hours, every 1-3 days instead of endlessly on certain days or without breaks every day. (Not saying that you need to though – remember, everyone is different.)

These are the two classic problems that occur when we’re not careful:

  1. Some students just don’t like maths (probably forced to take it), but over-studying only builds stress and boredom. Sure, more practice may be needed, but practice it in a different way potentially? Something is likely impeding your learning, and just brute force studying it won’t really get anywhere. (Easy suggestion – ask for help!)
  2. For students that are excellent at maths on the other hand, the situation is amusing. You can study for maths lots, but then one day you get overconfident and become lazy! There goes all your good studying habits and a lot that you’ve worked hard for!


2. Claiming to study ‘maths’ when taking multiple maths courses

This remark is something I always find very innocent by nature. Students walk off and say they’re going to study ‘maths’ now.

If you’re only taking one mathematics subject, fortunately this won’t apply to you. But many students who take more than one subject end up studying for only one of them, and completely neglecting the other!

What ends up happening? They get an impressive high mark in one of them, and their other one got dragged back down to something far lower. Which usually ends up hurting their ATAR more than what two consistent marks would look like.


3. Not actively seeking resources

By nature, mathematics exams like to examine the content in ways you may not have come across during your studies. Traditionally, HSC and VCE students have been made well aware of this through their study, and they know that past papers are usually an optimal solution. This is because they’ll have questions that mimic the exam styles the best.

Being thrown in the new system certainly makes life hard. You don’t get past QCE papers to use. But who says that should be your only source?

Eventually, your source of textbook questions get depleted. So check out some past HSC/VCE papers as well! To be fair, it may feel inefficient, since their respective syllabuses don’t match up perfectly with yours. But it still beats sitting there with nothing to do to work your brain, right? I promise there will be enough to make your efforts worthwhile at least!


4. Spending too long on a question or concept!

Have you ever been stuck on a problem for too long? And feel too stubborn to move on?

In all honesty, move on. That is, for now! Usually this is caused by a mental block, or something impeded the learning process for you.

Sometimes after studying for too long, ideas no longer come to us. At that point in time, it’s better to take a break and move on to a different concept. (Assuming you haven’t spent too long studying for mathematics as a whole obviously.) Then revisit it later. I’ve done this multiple times, and usually I find the issue the second time round! (And feel stupid for not realising the first time, but hey, at least it’s been sorted!)

But if you come back to it, and do the same process again (and again…), then perhaps you just aren’t sure. That’s fine, I’m there quite often. Again, ask for help! Your teacher and/or your classmates might have an idea! Or, of course, casually slide into our forums 😉


5. Use your textbook too much

Your textbook won’t be there beside you in the exam – remember that fact! Textbooks were designed to help teach/learn the content, and lead into revision. They’re not there to copy out every method onto your answer booklet.

Although quite uncommon, you may be surprised at how many students bluntly copy the method down without thinking about why they’re using it!

Textbooks are a great reference; they’re just not there to do everything for you. Try to think about why certain methods work yourself. That way, you’ll have better intuition about when to use said techniques!


6. Use your textbook too little!

Yes, it can go the other way! Some people get overconfident with their abilities and leave themselves way too vulnerable to mind blanks and the occasional forgetfulness.

It’s true to say many students actually survive mostly without the textbook, after a certain point with their studying. They already have the methods memorised – some may even have fancy problem solving techniques up their sleeves! But this usually doesn’t happen until a while.

Generally speaking, your textbook should be there as a reference whenever you need it. Never be too stubborn to use it! The goal is to minimise the usage, not necessarily to obliterate it.


7. Finally – not collaborate!

This comes from personal experience. It applies to every subject in my opinion, not just maths.

Because I was always willing to help my peers, I received lots of support in return. I was top of my class in maths, yet there were many times that I learnt tricks and techniques off them! They also provided me more resources than I already had, especially with new sources for questions.

Ultimately, you benefit each other. That, and your peers like you more and tend to support you too!


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