7 Habits of Highly Effective Teen Maths Students


Life as a teenage mathematician

Can you remember how hard it was being a teenager? Making friends, breaking friends, crazy hormonal feelings, and to make it worse, maths got REALLY hard! I found maths a breeze until I hit the age of 17, when it  got hard all of a sudden! In the end I figured out that I needed to actively study, and practise, practise, practise.

No nonsense advice

I did well in the end, but when I recently read a sample chapter from Rebecca Decamillis’ ebook Math is Hard but Ace it Anyway, I knew that I had to feature some of the great advice from her book on Maths Insider. It is written for teenagers, and contains straight forward advice and testimonials without being patronising. Rebecca’s experience of teaching and tutoring maths to teens has enabled her to produce a MUST READ book for every teenager who’s serious about improving their maths. I was so impressed I bought a copy straight away for my pre-teen, so let me share 7 of the habits of highly effective teen mathematicians. Quotes from the book are in red.

Habit #1: Using your notes and maths textbook

“Did you know that the whole purpose of taking notes is to create a study
tool for yourself, to help you do homework and study for tests? They are
a tool for you. They are there to help you”

Making their notes neat and easy for to understand, will provide a valuable resource for homework and tests. Additionally, reading and re-reading the material in their maths textbook will help teens either understand the work, or be able to find exactly what they need to ask for help on, or research further themselves.

Habit #2: Listening to and getting involved in the maths lesson

“I understand that listening to a math lesson is not always as fun as
talking to the friend who sits in front of you in class. Neither is it
as fun as listening to music or playing a game on your calculator or
daydreaming about the weekend. But here is the bottom line: Not
everything in life will be really fun all the time, and sometimes if you
try hard at something that is not especially fun, it will make life easier for you later.”

Participating in the maths lesson is the best way to sort out any maths problems. Students need to ask the teacher straight away if they don’t understand something while the teacher is there in front of them. Even if the work seems easy, asking further questions will  help your teen get a deeper understanding of the topic.

Habit #3: Not over-relying on your calculator

“When students use their calculators too often, they weaken their ability
to do simple math. Several of the adolescents I tutor (including Grade
12 students) have almost entirely forgotten their multiplication tables,
as well as how to do simple calculations such as 0.5 × 2.”

Strong mental maths skills are needed throughout life. Yes, calculators are usually available, their main purpose is to work out complicated sums. The answers from a calculator are only as good as the the numbers and operations that are entered into it. Make one small slip and the answer will be wrong, and without the mental maths skills to estimate the size of the correct answer, your teen won’t know that it’s wrong.

Habit #4:  Starting maths homework straight away

“The best idea is to finish your homework before you even leave
school. Try to use class time to do it, if your teacher allows any. If you
are able to do only a portion of it in class, spend the majority of your
time working on the harder questions instead of doing them in order.”

Those students who leave their homework to the last minute find that many they’ve forgotten some of the work. It’s a great idea for your teen to start their homework when they’re still at school so they can ask their maths teacher about any difficult parts. Getting it out of the way first will leave more time for doing things that they really love!

Habit #5: Studying properly for maths tests and quizzes

“….if you don’t invest time in studying, you
will likely get a poor grade on the test, which will probably make you
dislike math even more. If, however, you work especially hard for the
few days leading up to the test, you will likely do well—and then you
will feel happy and want to keep doing well!”

As soon as your teen knows the date of their next maths test,they should devise a study plan. If they can plan well in advance they may only have to study a little extra maths each day. If the test is near, they can still break up the maths topic into small chunks, and make sure they   understand and have practised each section before moving on to the next.

Habit #6: Trying to understand the maths instead of memorising or copying steps or examples

“Students who rely on memorizing or copying steps feel uneasy with the process, even after
they finish their homework, because they know deep inside that they
truly don’t get it. Plus, these students are missing out on the awesome
satisfaction that comes from understanding math.”

As a short-term temporary strategy, memorising and copying examples will serve teen mathematicians well, however in the long-run this strategy is doomed to fail. Maths is like a series of building blocks. Building a solid understanding whether within a topic or through the whole curriculum, will make learning mathematics a more enjoyable experience.

Habit #7: Catching up on the work when you miss a maths class

“The first problem is that the next class will probably be hard to
understand. Remember, math builds on itself—so what you learn
today depends on what you learned yesterday. If you learned nothing
yesterday, then today’s lesson will be that much more difficult. So get
the notes from someone and figure them out, do the homework, and
get help if you need it.”

Yes, it’s easy to see a missed maths class or two as a mini-break from maths, but when your teen returns to class, the teacher will have moved on. Come test time, revision will be less effective with missing notes and missing knowledge and understanding from the missed maths class itself.

Rebecca gives more cutting edge strategies to help teens succeed in maths in her ebook Math is Hard but Ace it Anyway.  A full sample chapter can be downloaded from the left side bar of the “study skills” page of Rebecca’s website.

What great maths habits does your teen have?

Like and Share this article on Facebook – it could be just what the teen mathematicians in your circle of friends need.

Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teen Maths Students

  1. Thanks for sharing these tips, Caroline! Rebecca Decamillis has a lot of insight. I myself was a total calculator addict in high school, and it was actually the process of working with some of my first tutoring students back in the day that pushed me to improve my mental math. They went to a school where calculators were not allowed until 9th grade, so I had to sharpen my mental computation skills to keep up with them! In the process I realized that being comfortable with the computation, instead of relying on a calculator to spit it out, made me much more confident and also able to see more patterns.

    I also think the tip about understanding why something works instead of just memorizing a series of steps is super important. Unfortunately, I think math is often presented as just a bunch of seemingly arbitrary steps, and this approach rarely helps students understand why things work or what it all means. But, if you know why something works, then you can find ways to work around or backtrack or reconstruct if you forget the procedure. And having the confidence to figure something out when you’ve forgotten the steps or haven’t learned them yet feels awesome!

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