Maths Methods is a fantastic subject for those who are interested in Maths and are relatively good at it. However, too many students study it.

Last time I checked, around 70 000 students complete VCE in Victoria and around 15 000 of those complete Maths Methods, that’s about 20% of students. A lot more students enrol in Methods and then drop out.

Now, a lot of parents want their kids to study Methods because it is the “middle” Maths and they want them to have a decent foundation in Maths. The problem is that this isn’t really the point of Methods.

The majority of Methods is on Calculus, and my question is, do we really need a fifth of our population studying this? Sure, it’s useful for Science, Engineering and Economics (I’ve heard), but it’s unlikely that this many students are looking for these types of careers.

Plus, Methods is a hard and stressful subject. The exam demands much more than just knowing the content and the average score is around 50% on the end of year exam.

If you find Maths challenging and it is not a prerequisite for a course you want to get into, then you should really consider whether it is right for you.

One of the main purposes of Year 12, I’m very sad to say, is about achieving decent ATAR. The importance of student’s ATAR is terribly overestimated (see this article here) but it does make it quicker and easier to get into the university course of your choice.

So let’s take a rather cold look at your final years of schooling in terms of stress levels and how to get the best possible ATAR.

Maths Methods is tough and for many students, it requires a lot more time and effort than their other subjects.

Generally, a student who is weaker in Maths, would probably achieve a higher ATAR, with less work, by selecting a subject they are interested in or naturally good at.

Maths Methods is “scaled up” to compensate for the fact that students tend to struggle in it and to prevent them from being disadvantaged. When a student achieves a higher score in Methods than their other subjects, this is typically because they put in more effort than their other subjects or they have a natural talent for Mathematics.

Having said all of this, you could still potentially do quite well in Methods if you are willing to put in this extra effort and radically change your study habits. You are honestly capable of achieving anything and never let anyone tell you otherwise (even me) but make sure you understand the reality of the challenge you are accepting. A lot of students drop out for this reason.

Believe it or not, I was discouraged from doing Specialist Maths when I was in Year 12 and it ended scoring higher in it than any other subject. However, I spent more time on it than anything else I studied.

You just need to weigh up whether you are willing work hard, how this extra study time will impact your other subjects and the fact that Year 12 is tough enough as it is without having to add potentially unnecessary pressure.

The reason you are doing Methods is probably because it is a prerequisite for a course you’re interested in and there’s usually good reason for this, as the skills you will learn will probably be applicable to that degree. Otherwise, you simply want to keep your options open, and you just need to consider how “open” you want these options to be and whether it is worth suffering through Methods.

Basically, it’s a good idea to do some research.

Have a look at all the university/TAFE courses and consider which ones appear interesting to you, what sort of stills they need and what their prerequisites are. Also, check out alternate pathways to get into the course.

If all else fails, some universities even offer a 6-week Maths Methods course for those who didn’t do it at school, and this could be an option. But my speciality isn’t university courses, so do the research yourself.

If you struggle at Maths and are worried about what people will think, then don’t. Year 12 isn’t to impress other people and a few years from now, no one will ask what you studied in secondary school.

If you simply want a well-balanced education, consider how much additional work this will be and keep in mind you have already studied some pretty advanced Maths in Year 10, such as, algebra, trigonometry, graphing and measurement (finding area and volume of shapes). You’ve already got a good foundation and then some…

There is no right or wrong choice, but the sensible reasons to do it whether you actually need it to get into your degree of choice or if you are simply interested in it. Both very valid reasons. But if you don’t need it, consider whether it is worth the extra work.

I hope this gives you some perspective and more clarity on whether Maths Methods is right for you. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help. Just send me an email and I’ll make sure I respond as soon as I can.

Alex Bell BA, BSc (Majors in Mathematics/Astrophysics, Philosophy and Classics)

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