How To Do Well For O Levels -Maths

You’ve probably wondered how to do well for O levels many, many times, especially when the O levels are less than half a year away from today. Since this is a Math website, I’ll tell you how to do well for O levels – Math O Level, to be specific.

For more specialized tips regarding how to do well for O Levels EMath Paper 1, check this article out. For how to do well in all your exams, not just Maths, check this one article from WikiHow out.

A little bit about the Math O Levels

To answer the question of how to do well for O Levels Maths, it’s important to first understand that Math is really rather unlike other subjects – it is,instead, based on understanding, not memorization. For other subjects like the Humanities (History and Geography), you probably remember having to learn and memorize large chunks of text you don’t have to understand all that well. Afterwards, you go to the exam, word vomit everything you’ve desperately memorized onto the paper, and promptly forget about it till the next exam.

Math however,

For Math however, it’s like riding a bike or learning to swim. Once you’ve learnt it once, you’ve learnt it for life (or at least a very long time). This means that understanding is paramount, not memorization. So, learn the underlying concepts behind topics, and you’re set to go. Don’t forget that in Math exams, the answer is constant, and unchanging. If you have the right number as an answer, and the corresponding working, you’ve got the full marks, simple as that. No need to worry about whether the teacher will like your handwriting, or is having a bad day, or something that just shouldn’t be relevant.

So how to do well for O Level Math?

Learn the format and syllabus.

A shockingly large number of students actually have no idea what the format and syllabus of the two Math papers  are, despite the fact that the format and syllabus are actually key to success. Here it is, for EMath (which all students have to take) :

Paper 1 : 2 hours long, 11 – 13 questions, 80 marks, 44% of total weightage

Paper 2:  2.5 hours long, 9-11 questions, 100 marks, 56% of total weightage

(For specific tips on how to do well for Paper 1, read our article on doing well for Paper 1)

Know the requirements and standards.

You’ve probably lost lots of marks, over the course of your lifetime, to not paying attention to the little details that are so often neglected by students. Paying attention to the little details can really mean making that A1, since A1 means a distinction and making close to 0 mistakes. And there are a lot of mistakes one can make with the little things.

If you look up the Math O Level syllabus online or elsewhere, you’ll see that it mentions that the omission of essential working will result in the loss of marks. so, make sure you put down every little bit of working, even if you’ve written it somewhere the examiner can’t see. Put the working down clearly, big and center. Don’t ever assume that you can skip steps with the assumption that the examiner will understand as long as you get the correct final answer, or that they have seen the correct working from other students and will just give you full credit for the marks. Also, take note of something called “step by step” working. This working is progressive, meaning that they are a few steps. If any steps are omitted, you will lose all the marks.

For final answers, the default standard is 3 significant figures, but ALWAYS, I repeat ALWAYS check what the question says they want the final answer to be rounded up/down to. It happens way too often that the question is deceptively easy, and students gleefully write down their final answer to 3 significant figures. However, the question was actually asking them for rounding up to the nearest hundred, or something non-standard.

Quick list of default or “good to have” standards

Here’s our quick list of default standards for easy reference:

Final answer is to 3 significant figures (varies, check question)

Progressive workings from a calculator is to 5 or 6 significant figures to prevent slight inaccuracies (more the better, but don’t go crazy.)

Angles is to one decimal place. Note : even for angles that don’t seem to have decimals, eg : 56. Make that 56.0 degrees, due to the 3 significant figure rule.

For questions that use π, use the π built into your calculator, unless the question explicitly states to use 3.14. Read the question to know if they want the final answer in π or the traditional 3 significant figures.

For time in questions (rarer in exam questions both the 12-hour and 24-hour clock may be used for quoting times of the day unless the question states otherwise.

Make your own notes.

Your teacher has probably already given you a heaping pile of notes, but they might be too intimidating to go through.

You can start small and make the notes work better for you by creating your own notes from them. This especially applies to remembering Math formulae, as because even though the Math exam gives you a formula sheet, many of the formulas you will need for the exam are actually not on it. Another perk of this is having a quick reference to look at, just before you enter the exam room. After all, formulas play a really important part in being able to solve questions.

Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged.

There’s a common saying that “practice makes perfect”, and that is especially true for Math. Math especially has a certain thing where there are “trends” of questions, meaning that certain kinds of questions will be repeated over and over again (with different numbers, of course). If you keep practicing, especially on past year O level Math papers, you’ll eventually be able to spot the trends (they might be different each year) and repeat the method to do those questions in your own year’s O level Math paper.

Click here for O & A Level math tuition. If you’d like to take a look at the MOE Maths syllabus, click here.

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