Preparing for the mathematics you’ll need in your degree - get your ducks in a row

If you’re starting your undergraduate degree and feeling unsure about the maths content of your course, Tamsin Smith from the Mathematics Resources Centre (MASH) offers some insight on how to be well prepared and organised, in other words, help you 'get your ducks in a row'.

Congratulations on securing your place at Bath! Your time at university will hopefully be an amazing opportunity to build on your existing knowledge and skills and develop new ones too.

You’ll probably have some maths and statistics content in your course. The amount will vary by department and a maths qualification may have been a requirement for your offer. So now is the time to prepare and get organised, in other words...

Get your ducks in a row - idiom

"To be well prepared or well organised for something that is going to happen."

Let's have a look at how maths differs from school, what that change might feel like and what you can do to smooth the transition.

How university maths differs from school

Many students tell us they find the maths at university quite challenging at first.

Very broadly, you may find maths at university different from the maths you have studied before in the following key ways:

• Application –maths is applied to subjects differently at undergraduate level. The context may change the notation, meaning or even the connection to other maths you may know.
• No ‘scaffolding’ - The scaffolding to help you move through problems has been removed at university. This occurs in different ways, from, being expected to find your own exercises to practise core techniques, to the questions themselves lacking the hints to help you to solve them.
• Assumed knowledge – your lecturers will assume you remember what was on your previous exam syllabus. Never mind the reality of cramming for exams and then having the summer off and forgetting lots of the things you’ve been taught (or maybe you weren’t taught it in the first place!)

As a fresher, you might initially feel fazed about the mathematical knowledge you’re expected to already have, especially if the person sitting next to you in your lecture has studied A level maths, A level further maths or any other maths qualifications which, for whatever reason, you have not.

On top of this, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by the new teaching methods, larger group sizes, and higher pace and style of maths teaching at university, with little time to practise what you’ve learnt.

Try not to compare yourself to others and feel inferior. Remember that the university is full of people from very diverse backgrounds and with very different experiences of maths, even more so following the Covid pandemic.

It’s a good idea to assess how confident you feel about your overall level of maths and consider what you can do to help yourself from the outset.

Here are some things to consider:

• Be prepared. Look back and consolidate what you do already know. Before you arrive, set aside some time to go over the main maths concepts from your school materials, textbooks and notes if you can.
• Find your knowledge gaps. If any maths qualification was a requirement for your course, you will have access to one of our ‘Training Spaces’.Training Spaces are designed to let you practise and revise.  You can attempt questions as many times as you want and get feedback each time.  Training Spaces are course specific, so you know you are practising the skills you will need.  You can also book onto a Training Space session to get input from a tutor.
• Practise… a lot. Not many people feel comfortable with new mathematical ideas and techniques straight away, so after your lecture, go over what you’ve just learnt. Practice really does make perfect and time spent thinking about problems and working out solutions is time well spent.
• Find a maths buddy/buddies. Being part of a community of learners where you feel comfortable explaining your mathematical ideas will give you a new perspective to unlock problems, build your confidence and help you to understand that you’re not alone.
• Talk to your lecturers. As a result of the disruption to your studies during the pandemic, it may be that you haven’t studied something quite as fully as your lecturers think you have. Be brave and tell them so - they will definitely want to know and can help you if this is the case.
• Contact us! MASH is a dedicated service that supports all students with any mathematical problems. We’re here to build your confidence and develop your skills, not just when you start your studies, but throughout your time in Bath. We’re available every day in semester time through our popular MASH drop-in in the Skills Zone.