How To Ensure Your Senior Student or Child Excels at Their 2021 Maths Exam

How To Ensure Your Senior Student or Child Excels at Their 2021 Maths Exam

Would you like to give your child simple strategies to give them their best shot at gaining top marks in their mathematics exam this year?

It’s all about knowing these 3 smart ways to succeed in mathematics exam revision.

As major exams loom large, the need to think differently about how we approach the inevitable revision of key subjects becomes a major consideration. Although this article centres on mathematics revisions, the elements are relevant to other subjects.

How do I know these techniques work?

Decades of my own experience working with thousands of students (and their families) facing major exams from high school to college to university to career jobs have provided me with a selection of solid techniques to encourage higher marks and fewer nerves when it counts, on exam days. Today I am sharing a selection of the strategies I use and encourage in my private tutoring sessions and university lectures (see or email for more information). 

Did you know? 

  •  Mathematics is a language – in its own right. It has embedded rules and guidelines to create the elegance of what maths provides.
  • It is a way of thinkingthat contains its own language and follows processes that provide solutions to many of the problems you will encounter for the rest of your life. The application of these ways will be utilised whether you are looking for a career in science and technology, or for managing your own finances, designing your garden, running a business, assembling a kit of furniture, playing a sport, sewing a dress, making a fence, cooking a meal, buying a home, planning a holiday or business strategy.
  • Everything in life involves some form of maths. Everything – even it it is not immediately visible.
  • You are in control of becoming more intelligent just by being willing to think, learn and persevere with maths as a subject.
  • The real beauty in maths lies in the fact that is teaches you different ways to think. Once you master those ways, and perhaps even find more ways, you will have more career options open to you and you will find problem solving throughout life easier.
  • Maths opens another avenue for your creativity. There is poetry and beauty and masterful simplicity, or complexity, in how maths is created, manipulated, utilised and admired.

Neuroscience tip #1: You will make your brain smarter just by doing the mental gymnastics maths invites. The neuronal pathways you create with the act of learning and practice will hold you in good stead in every other subject, in school and beyond.

While the process of revision seems simple for some, those who are serious about their studies have methods they already use and are willing try different ways to tackle the all important activity of revision.

So, let’s get serious about revision.

1.  Aim to understand a mathematical concept and its process. Understanding mathematical concepts takes time. And effort. And focus. And … it is worth it. If you understand the concepts in a topic or behind a problem, this makes it much simpler to apply to a question you have not seen especially under exam conditions. Understanding a concept forms what are called foundations and with practice and application, these foundations are stored in parts of the brain ready for retrieval and development as each year goes by.

I have worked with many children who have faced difficulty in the high school years yet the foundations of those challenges have stemmed back to early primary school in around Year 4 or so. Knowing times tables off by heart is still vital, regardless of ubiquitous use of calculators.

Clearly, I remember a Year 12 student who was still counting on her fingers the times table answering 6×7 as she counted 6, 12, 18, 24 etc. This was way too time consuming and inefficient since a great deal of her focus was consumed in answering something we need to have on the tip of our tongue, not our finger tips.

2.  Read the question out loud. If you are having trouble with a question, read the question out loud. Read it s-l-o-w-l-y, saying it differently each time placing emphasis on various parts of the question. This alone has enormous benefits.

 It focuses the mind, creates more intention and eliminates distractions. Many students (and adults) may think this is a childish and silly thing to do. Not so at all. It’s just that we tend not to talk about the benefits of reading out loud beyond the primary years and are distinctly poorer for it.

By reading the question in various ways, placing emphasis on different words or numbers, by the time you have done this a couple of times, you may find your brain has already worked out the solution or at least the process. By reading out loud you are engaging other parts of the brain and stimulating those to support you in your learning process. It is also a way to rehearse facts and figures and processes thereby embedding that even more in your brain for later retrieval.

Of course, it is understood that reading aloud in class is not encouraged in maths because it will disturb other students and the teacher. Yet when you are working by yourself in your room, a corner of the library or in a study group (with the acceptance of your colleagues) it can be a perfect thing to do.

Reading out loud has particular benefits for your learning and brain development. While you have the luxury of being at home or in a quiet spot at school, read your problem out loud – slowly – reading for understanding, not just ‘saying’ the words in a monotoned manner. 

This style of rehearsal of the question can be done in an exam room as you ‘say’ the problem silently in your mind.

I have always thought of maths in this way –

A mathematical problem is a little story that has clues and hints, twists and turns, and ultimately seeks a conclusion or ending. How you get the answer is part of the journey, the intrigue, the fun of maths or of the math story. 

Did you know the following?

Neuroscience Tip #2 : You can make your brain smarter just by practising maths.

By spending substantial time working with mathematical problems increases the grey matter density in parts of the cortex known to be involved in a variety of skills.

These include manipulation of 3-D objects, mental creation of problems and solutions, visuospatial imagery and of course, wider application to other problems utilising a mathematical process.

Surely this is good to know. The more grey matter you have the better.

3.    Ask more questions. Lots more. Ask your maths teacher or tutor or parent. Your teachers will tend to respond more favourably to the students who are focused and are willing to challenge themselves with questions to stimulate discussion and enhance understanding. The more you can ‘speak’ about your topics and verbalise questions, the more you will succeed.

In mathematics, the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it. –George Cantor

Remember, there is no such thing as a ‘dumb’ question, especially as you are in the learning seat trying to make sense of something new or reviewing something needing further analysis. If others in your class do not do this, ignore that. It is you who are responsible for your own learning and be assured, if you are asking the question, odds are that there is another person who would benefit from hearing the answer. 

Neuroscience Tip #3 : The very fact that you are formulating a question in light of your current understanding or desire to more fully understand means that you are stimulating and accessing parts of the brain that will benefit you. Being courageous to put up your hand and actively engage in class also enhances learning as emotion plays a role in the laying down of memory in the hippocampus.

Be brave and be proud of the fact that you are willing to attempt to articulate a question to support your learning and that of your class mates. Asking good questions is a critical life skill all by itself.

Neuroscience Tip #4 : Just the perseverance of learning a new task is able to change the structure of the brain in a beneficial way – plasticity at its best. Some research indicate that structural changes in the brain were most rapid in the early stages of learning a new task rather than the ongoing rehearsal of something already learned (Greenfield 2014:62).

What that means for us in practicing and revising mathematical problems is that we want to more fully understand why we do a certain process and give ourselves more challenging application of that skill. In this way, we train our brain to make more connections, see more opportunity to use the method we are using and perhaps find new way of approaching a problem.

All of these attributes are used daily in life since maths is a universal skill necessary of our daily functioning.

Here are some inspirational words from the theoretical mathematician, Leonard Adleman:

“My philosophy is that it’s important, in a curious way, for scientists to be courageous. Not physically courageous, but courageous in an intellectual way. I believe that by working on extremely hard problems, by being courageous, you may succeed. But even if you fail, you fail gloriously. And you will have learned immense amounts, you will have extended the envelope of what you can do. As a by-product of failing on a great problem, I have always found that I could solve some lesser but still interesting problems—which then fill your vitae.”

Source: Interview at USC (August 2, 1996)

If you apply these tips and techniques in your study and revision strategy, I know that you will enter your examination room with greater confidence and position yourself for even greater success.

For individual support, private tutoring (local and international) and free resources visit or contact

“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” Albert Einstein

Select References :

4 Reasons Why Reading Out Loud Is Actually Good For You. (2020). [online] 10 Nov. Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2021].

American Mathematical Society. (n.d.). AMS Open Math Notes: Search Results. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jul. 2021].

Department for Education (2013). National curriculum in England: mathematics programmes of study. [online] GOV.UK. Available at:

Featured Neuroscience·July 8 and 2021 (2021). Handwriting Beats Typing and Watching Videos for Learning to Read. [online] Neuroscience News. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jul. 2021].

Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: how digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.

One Fish, Two Fish, Fish Can Count(ish?)

Lucon-Xiccato, T., Miletto Petrazzini, M. E., Agrillo, C., & Bisazza, A. (2015). Guppies discriminate between two quantities of food items but prioritize item size over total amount. Animal Behaviour, 107, 183–191. (2020). Mathematics K–10 | NSW Education Standards. [online] Available at:

Sian Beilock (2011). Choke. London: Constable.

University of Oxford. “Lack of math education negatively affects adolescent brain and cognitive development: A new study suggests that not having any math education after the age of 16 can be disadvantageous.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 June 2021. <>. (2014). Neuroscience For Kids – 10% of the Brain Myth. [online] Available at:

The Effects of Handwriting Experience on Literacy Learning” by Brenda Rapp and Robert Wiley. Psychological Science

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