Mathematics has always been my favourite field of study. Perhaps it is in this area that I can give you the most valuable guidance in terms of VCE. Below I will explore three subjects which I did, Mathematical Methods, Specialist Mathematics and University Mathematics. If mathematics is one of your strong points, I highly recommend you do both Specialist Maths and Methods. Note that this requires you to do Methods 1/2 and General Mathematics SM 1/2 in Year 11.
To start off with, here are some tips that are applicable to VCE maths subjects in general:
Master your calculator – you should do about 70-80% of your work on calculator. This will be slightly detrimental to your hand-written work, but it will be beneficial in the long run because exam 2’s are worth more and those allow the use of calculators. Learn to type fast on your calculator and some shortcuts that will make your work easier. The CAS calculator I used in my VCE years will probably no longer be applicable to you. I used to Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium, legendary for its durability (my friend once dropped it down 3 floors) and ease of use. Here are some shortcuts for the TI-89 that may or may not be applicable to TI-Nspire and later models:
1. Use the “given” sign | (the vertical line) to speed up your calculations. It saves you having to do a lot of extra typing.
For example, x^3+5x^2+x+243 | x=12.5427; this saves you having to write out the full ‘x’ term multiple times.
Another example is diff(x^3+5x^2+x+243,x) | x=2. This is sort of like two steps in one.
2. Use the copy, cut and paste functions. This will help you enter information faster.
3. Whenever you see a long function-related question, define the function immediately. Then you can use f(value) to find y when x is a particular value. You can also differentiate by typing diff(f(x),x).
Use the examples in the textbook – A good way to improve your grasp of concepts is to closely follow the worked examples in your textbook. I always read the examples before I attempt the questions of any particular section.
Do exam properly the first time through – this was a good tip from my Methods 3/4 teacher. He said that, in his experience, instead of quickly rushing through the paper and coming back to check one’s answers, it is better to do the exam to a high standard the first time through and only leaving 10-15 minutes spare time at the end to check some of your questions. Of course, if there is a particular question that is taking up too much time, just move on to the next question and come back to it later.
In university, I often do exam questions out of order depending on how confident I am with particular questions. I find that ‘momentum’ can be a big factor in exams. If you try one of the harder questions first, you could destroy your confidence for later questions. Not everyone suffers from this psychological phenomena, but if you do, it may be worth doing easier questions before the harder ones.
Bound notes – you are allowed to bring ‘bound notes’ into methods or specialist maths exam 2’s. I once asked my talented friend (49 methods, 50 specialist maths) how I should compile my notes. He suggested that I simply take in my textbook. There are typically pages at the back of the textbook to write some small notes on things that the textbook doesn’t cover.