Last year I tutored a year 12 student in Maths with only 4 weeks until the final exam. He was barely passing and had pretty much lost all hope for doing well in the subject.

He was more of a humanities person and never had much of a liking for Maths.

It’s interesting because Maths is really just a language with its own words, symbols and ideas. If you can become fluent in this language, you can read a Maths equation like a line out of a book.

In 4 weeks we don’t have time to cover every single problem he will come across on his exam, so we focused on the language.


Week after week, we just slowly taught him the vocabulary, each word and symbol we came across was defined and understood. Topic by topic, he started to become literate in the subject of Maths and he was startled at how simple it was.

He kept saying, “Really? Is that all it is? That is so simple.”

We only spent 20% of the time actually doing exam questions, yet his ability to solve them increased exponentially.

He was failing his practice Exams before and lost all hope of doing well, yet achieved a B+ in the actual Exam.

After reviewing the exam, he found that every error he had made was due to careless mistakes. If I had more time, I would have focused more on exam technique and this would have eradicated this problem to a large degree.


Mathematical literacy is an important and often overlooked aspect to education. Of course students need to practice doing questions but this must be coupled with a strong foundation of understanding.

Students should ensure they understand all the terminology and symbols. Get them all defined. It can be scary but if you know where to look you can find simple definitions for pretty much everything.

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