If you get stuck with maths
Everyone - students, tutors and great mathematicians alike - gets stuck at some point. What is important is how you react to being stuck and what strategies you have for overcoming these problems.
Here are some tips.
Check you understand the problem or question
- Look up any mathematical words or notation that you don't understand or have forgotten
- Can you explain what you have to find or do in your own words?
- Do you need to make any assumptions or simplifications?
- Try looking at particular or simpler examples of the problem. Using examples with numbers can sometimes help you to see a way forward
Work out what you need to do
- Try to break the problem down into manageable chunks
- Summarise all the information you have been given and the techniques that might help
- If it helps, draw a diagram
- Look back in your books and notes for similar examples. Will the same techniques work for your problem?
- Discuss the problem with other people (not necessarily mathematicians). This might clarify your thoughts sufficiently for you to progress
- Have a break - coming back to a problem refreshed can make it easier to solve
Know when to stop
If none of these strategies work, stop and ask your tutor for help. It is important to keep on target with the module as well as developing your problem solving skills.
Basic mathematics skills resources
Many websites at the Open University provide help in acquiring mathematics skills:
- Lots of topics are covered at Maths Help.
- Use the Maths Skills ebook to help you refresh your mathematical skills for the science course you are studying. You may also find the Maths Skills ebook questions helpful, to check your understanding of the mathematics topics in the Maths Skills ebook.
- Maths for Science and Technology toolkit - for post-Level one students having difficulties with mathematical skills on a science or technology course.
- Working with charts, graphs and tables toolkit - Try this toolkit if you are having difficulties working with numerical information. It is relevant for courses with small amounts of mathematical, scientific or technical content that still need you to work with charts, graphs and tables.
- More charts, graphs and tables toolkit - This is helpful if you have some experience of interpreting numerical data and understand basic statistics, but are not fully confident in producing charts, graphs and tables.