Top tips if you’re struggling with maths
By Mark Nevey FBDO
In the June 2018 issue of Re:View, we discussed some of the ways to overcome having a weakness in written English. We focused specifically on when English is your second language, or if you have dyslexia. In this issue, we look at tips on how to deal with maths when you’ve always struggled with it.
In some ways, having difficulties with the maths involved in the DO course can be more detrimental to your success than struggling with writing. When it comes to writing, if the grammar or spelling is poor, at least the sentences almost always still make sense. However, bad mathematics, especially at an early stage, can come across as looking like nonsense.
When starting out on the DO course there are a couple of key things to keep in mind in respects to maths. One is to make sure you are confident with the basics. You can feel inadequate if you think there is an area you have never quite grasped, especially if it is perceived to be a basic level of maths.
If there is a gap in the foundations of your maths knowledge, then it’s going to act as an underlying obstacle to the entire DO course and you need to plug the gap very early on.
One great way to do this is to enrol on the Mathematics Access course at ABDO College. It’s a distance learning course which runs for 21 weeks and covers a vast range of mathematical topics. Details of the Access course, including the topics covered, course requirements and how to apply, can all be found here.
ABDO College lecturer, Haydn Dobby, explains the importance of having a good foundation in specific topics: “For first years particularly, trigonometry and triangles are a huge part of geometric optics, and a good understanding there helps massively. Most of the other maths is really just adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing – or ray tracing.”
There is an extensive array of mathematics textbooks on the market, ranging in competency and skill level, from key stage to university level and the ABDO College bookshop can help. If the most basic level is what you require, then don’t be ashamed to use textbooks. If they fill the gaps in your knowledge and understanding, then that’s all that really matters.
The write stuff
Another helpful hint is to write out all of your calculations in full, with clear and well-spaced out workings. Do this in assignment drafts, assignments being written up for submission and in exams, as well as in lecture notes. This is really for your own benefit as much as an assessor’s. It will make it easier to spot any mistakes and will leave you with the space to rectify them.
It is essential that you can make sense of any formulae you’ve written, since at a later date you may need them for revision. Ultimately, as Haydn points out: “It’s more about learning when to do what, than being amazing at maths.” If you take your time and be sure not to skip steps, then it can come together on the page, as well as in your mind.
Like anything at ABDO College, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Lecturers are ever present throughout your time on block release, while personal tutors are at the other end of a ‘phone when you’re struggling with assignments.
Don’t forget there is also the help of fellow students for you to utilise. It can be really helpful to combine brain power, which is especially easy on block release during your free time around lectures and classes. However, a note of caution: it’s important not to become confused by incorrect information. Make sure that you are acquiring advice and help from reliable people and check it. There can be nothing worse than learning the wrong method or formula from an unreliable source.
Another way to make your life easier when studying or revising is to put together a little book of formulae for yourself. As you embark on the course, you will quickly discover that there are a number of different formulae, which often need to be combined or rearranged in a calculation.
In optics, these same formulae come up time and time again. Having a small notebook you can refer to for the most common formulae is hugely useful. Of course, it can’t be taken into an exam, but it can often eliminate the need to scour through heavy optical textbooks, or reams of revision notes, thereby saving you valuable time.
If you struggle with maths, don’t despair, just make sure you take the right approach and seek out all the help you need. There are many facets to being a dispensing optician and if you fall short with maths ability then just keep working at it – and with the right tools, you will succeed.