Does Practice Really Make Perfect in Math?

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Many people would expect the answer to this question to be a resounding yes, and for good reason too. Afterall, we often hear of students who score well in math having poured in hours upon hours of practice. Is it then undeniable that practice makes truly perfect in math? The answer is a little less clear cut then what you might have guessed.

The Importance of Practice in Math

For starters, it is undeniable that no school subject is as reliant on practice as math is. School math tests us on the ability to remember formulas, apply them efficiently and to solve common variations of an issue. From this standpoint, pure practice helps our mind to come to grasp with a math concept, recognise problems quickly and match it to a known method of solving.

Concept Familiarisation

Studies have repeatedly shown that memorisation of core mathematical concepts is required at the start.

For example, students who never mastered their multiplication tables in elementary school were found to struggle much more than their peers. This was due to the increased effort they would have to put into solving each question.

Other than applying a new concept, they would also have to work out multiplication functions manually. This slowed them down and took up more brain processing power. This resulted in the student getting tired and stressed over problems easily.

Compounding this issue would be comparisons that they made with their peers. Without necessarily realising it, their self-esteem would be impacted, with a perception that they are simply slower than their peers. Without the right environment, students who face such self-esteem or perceived incompetence issues might become disheartened and lose interest in math altogether.

The Gap Between the Top & the Middle

This is why the gap between the top third of students and those who struggle to pass are so wide. With the basics having being memorised and recalled at will, students are then free to focus their energy on new advance concepts.

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In the first place, when a question is viewed, well-practiced students are immediately able to:

  • Identify the concept that is being tested
  • Determine the appropriate formula
  • Recall the most likely method that is required to solve the question

The Limitations of Blind Practice

Practice in math is a means to an end, a tool of sorts for scoring well. However, like any tool, the benefits gained from it is dependent on how it was used. In this case, practice is not all quantity, but rather it has aspects of quality.

For example, blindly practicing the same types of questions over and over again will see diminishing returns. While students should be able to score full marks on simpler questions with heavy practice of standard questions, they tend to struggle with more difficult questions. This includes questions that:

  • Introduce a variation to the standard method
  • Combine two or more topics in order to test a student’s understanding
  • Mimic real-world conditions with a large number of factors and variants

For students who are aspiring to be within the top percentile of their cohort, a mastery over these sorts of questions will be needed. These questions have been specifically designed to separate the good students from those who are excellent.

Variation to the Standard Method

girl testing math educational toy

Of the three types of questions above, variation to the standard method is the simplest. Typically, if your child were to practice a full range of questions from the textbook as well as their supplemented by his or her teacher, this type of question should not pose an issue. The challenge that is thrown at your child in this situation is the requirement to see a problem from multiple points of view, thus altering the steps required to solve the problem.

To overcome this obstacle, ensure that your child practices a variety of questions. More importantly, he or she will need to grasp what exactly has changed in the question or situation that necessitates the change in answering method.

Combining Multiple Topics

Often times, major exams will test your child’s understanding of not just topics in isolation, but their understanding within the bigger picture. As such, word problems would use terms and concepts that were originally introduced in different topics. The purpose behind such an approach is to see whether your child has truly understood the purpose of what they have studied and if they interpret the results within the given context.

The first step to handling this type of problem is to not be overwhelmed by the variance in information provided. Instead, your child should be able to break down different parts of the question to identify the relevant concepts and connect how they are related. To do this, your child would need to start asking “why” instead of just “how” when solving math problems.

girl surrounded by maths concepts

Real-World Conditional Questions

Arguably the toughest of all math questions are those that attempt to mimic real world conditions. For starters, these problems often throw long paragraphs of text combined with multiple illustrations. It is also possible that a variation of a previously taught formula is introduced and is required in order to solve the problem.

The challenge here is twofold. Other than sorting through the massive amount of information that is presented, students would have to contextualise their workings and answers in order to adapt their methodology. At the end, students would also be challenged to interpret the result in order to demonstrate a proper application of their knowledge to the real-world situation.

Helping your Child to Ace Primary School Mathematics

As shown in this article, the gap between the top tier students and their peers is much larger than one would suspect. In order to keep up with the curve, your child will need to competently solve the three types of questions mentioned in this article. In order to tackle these, he or she will need to go beyond blind practice and receive strong exposure a tougher variance of questions.

One way to help your child cope with the increase in difficulty is to allow him or her to attend primary mathematics tuition Singapore classes. With increased time and smaller class sizes, tutors are able to challenge students with more contextual and understanding based questions. In turn, your child will be more prepared to tackle question variants during their exam.

Trust MLGS to Help Your Child with Mathematics

Maths Learning Groups was established by Mr. Lawrence Ong, who is NIE-Trained and an ex Primary School Teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience. We aim to help weaker students to bridge the gap with better-performing students by catering to their learning pace and style.

We strive to provide affordable tuition rates so that no student will be deprived of the opportunity to learn from NIE-Trained teachers. We specialize in offering math tuition classes for students in Primary 3 to Primary 6. Our primary math tuition centre Singapore classes help to build up a strong solid foundation in the key mathematics concepts.

Our small group maths tuition and private tuition classes in Singapore help students maximize their learning potential. This ensures that they hone strong critical thinking skills that will carry them through in their education journey.