10 Tips to Improve the Presentation Skills of Your Maths
Quite often students, although capable to perform mathematical calculations, lack the ability to present their work in a structured and logical way. This skill becomes more critical when they need to solve problems using mathematical techniques. On this short article we present ten simple tips on how students can improve their writing skills when it comes to present their working in mathematics.
1. Use correctly the symbols of = and ⇒
Maths is all about equalities so ensure that each line of your working has the equal = sign. The = sign is used to denote that something is equal to something else, whereas the ⇒ sign is used to denote that one equation follows from another.
When we write A = B ⇒ D = C we mean that, since A is the same (equal) as B, it follows that D is the same (equal) as C.
2. Use short sentences and words to link different steps
Very often, your working will include many steps and you’ll need to link them in a structure way that the reader (examiner) will be able to follow a logical order in your reasoning.
Of course this process of logical thinking has taken place in your mind, because you wouldn’t be able to solve the problem otherwise.
Since you have it already in your mind, you may as well write it in paper to enhance the quality of your answer.
Therefore, apart from just the mathematical equations and symbols scattered around, write down a small sentence to explain your reasoning, what steps you are doing and how the next step links to the previous.
Use link words like therefore…, substitute…, as we see…
3. Number your equations
Numbering the equations is a great technique to refer back to equations you wrote without having to re-write them. Using words to describe your working (see tip 2) will also help you structure your working and demonstrate a professional way for presenting your solution.
4. Give an identity or a label to your expressions
A very common weakness that students demonstrate is their inability to to understand and identify what the mathematical expressions they write represent. Instead, they end up writing scattered expressions and random calculations all over their paper. You should become used to giving an identity to each of your expressions either by adding your own label (symbol) or by using the symbols you are given by the question.
5. Check for the end statement in your answer
Many students leave their answer incomplete because they assume that the conclusion is obvious. Always check to ensure that your answer is directly linked to the question you have been asked. Do not let anything to be “implied”.
6. Give your answer to the format requested
Similarly to the point before, you need to check that you give your answer exactly in the format that the question requests. Again, do not let anything to be “implied” and always check if your numerical value needs a unit next to it.
7. Split lines when dealing with long calculations
In the rush of giving their answers quickly, students fall into the trap of presenting long calculations on the same line.
That results into lines packed with symbols and numbers, where students have a high risk not only to make a mistake, but also becoming unable to identify that mistake.
Whenever you feel that your calculations are going to be long, split them into chunks and work on each chuck line by line.
8. Learn the formulae by heart
You are about to say “I’ll be given the formula sheet so why should I learn the formulae by heart?”. Well, by the time you open the formula sheet, go to the right page and start scanning all the equations to find out which one to use, the time has gone. And, during the exams, time is gold: candidates who know how the use their time efficiently will be the winners.
Beside, quite often, you will be asked to solve problems where you will need to combine different formulae in order to calculate the required quantity.
If you think that during the exams, under the time pressure and the anxiety whether you are on the right path or not to answer the question, the formula sheet will help you decide which formulae to use, then think again.
From neurological point of view, the brain is able not only to decide about the right formula but also to combine formulae much faster than your eyes can scan a page.
Use the formula sheet only when you are unsure about a specific term. For example : “is x to the power of 2/3 or 3/2?” or “what is the value of that constant k?”.
9. Use the grid lines to align your equations
If you want to be regarded (and treated) as a educated person, you need to demonstrate that you know how to write on a piece of paper.
And by writing, we don’t only mean that you know the alphabet and that you can recognise the letters, but most importantly you need to know how to write them neatly, in an aligned way using the lines on the paper.
Use the grid lines to help you align your equal = signs and fraction lines on the lines.
10. Avoid the scribbles
Of course when you write in a rush and you are under pressure, sometimes you will make mistakes that you want to wipe off.
There is nothing bad about this – on the contrary you should be glad that you have spotted the mistakes and you are now about to fix them.
In that case, cross-out the previous (wrong) working as neatly as possible and re-write the correct working underneath in a clear and unambiguous way.
If you wish to see examples of the above tips, have a look at good practices and get few (basic) exercises to practice, download for free the notes on 10 Tips to Improve the Presentation Skills of Your Maths.
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