Eddie Woo’s five steps to acing HSC maths

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Wooed by maths

Despite heading to university planning to be an English and History teacher, Eddie Woo decided to help fill a gap for teachers in a subject of which he had little appreciation. It’s hard to believe the founder of 1.7 million subscriber-strong WooTube – and Australia’s best-known maths teacher – wasn’t born with a passion for mathematics.

“I didn’t appreciate maths until I was well into my 20s. I went through school getting okay marks but not really getting what it was about,” Woo said. “I had no sense of its importance, its intrinsic beauty, its power in everyday life.”

Maths teacher Eddie Woo had originally planned to teach History and English.Credit: Kate Geraghty

Woo has made a successful career out of his relatively new-found love of maths. As well as becoming a YouTube sensation, he teaches at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney’s north, supports other maths teachers via a role with the NSW Department of Education and now has a tertiary post as the University of Sydney’s newest Professor of Practice in mathematics education.

His enthusiasm for the “joy” found in maths is infectious: “Mathematics is an incredibly creative and imaginative discipline, but most people don’t think of it that way.

“There was a beautiful sunrise this morning. I thought ‘This is amazing, I just want to take this in’ and mathematics is full of that if you have eyes to see it.

“It’s amazing to me that a basketball flying through the air, and the moon above our heads and a comet flying through space that’s visible only every few decades are bound by this one mathematical reality. That’s beautiful to me.”

Woo advises HSC maths students to complete past HSC exam papers available on the NESA website in the specified exam time, explain the reasoning behind their answers to fellow students and take care to avoid simple mistakes such as incorrect addition in complex questions.

“I love working with young people in all capacities,” said Woo, whose classes on various mathematics topics are available on YouTube.

“You can appreciate the world better when you understand the mathematics behind it. Mathematics is powerful to solve problems. Our whole society is built on mathematical tools. When you learn maths, you get better at everything.”

Woo’s tips for HSC Maths

Quality study not quantity, says maths ace

Manal Khan, who topped Advanced Maths in the 2020 HSC.Credit: Rhett Wyman

It may seem hard to believe but Manal Khan – who topped Mathematics Advanced in the 2020 HSC – showed little interest in maths during her primary school years. It wasn’t until high school that her interest in the subject started to match her aptitude.

“When I was in primary school my mum had given up all hope for my mathematical abilities, so you can imagine what a turnaround it was in later years,” said Khan, who attended Amity College in Sydney’s west.

Her formula for success in this challenging subject was multifaceted.

“Rather than one thing, it was a combination of many things – the resources available to me, my teachers and peers, the amount of practice I put in, daily habits such as sleeping schedules and so on,” she said.

But more than anything, it came down to having the right mentality. “I’ve always felt that a major factor contributing to success in anything is your mindset. You have to be determined and believe that you can actually achieve this goal of yours – and for me, my religion plays a huge role in my mindset and motivations.”

Khan found that quality of study time was more important than quantity, and checklists helped to keep her on track.

“Some people put a lot of focus on how much time they spend studying, but I always measured my progress by the amount of work I got done rather than the time I spent on something. I also used checklists to keep on top of my work and stay organised. Checklists really help when everything seems overwhelming,” she said.

When it came to different subjects, Khan adapted and modified her approach.

“How I studied differed from subject to subject. For subjects that heavily involved calculation, like maths, I would revise the theory behind each topic but would mostly study by completing actual questions. For maths, you can’t rely on rote learning.

Working with friends can help you succeed in HSC Maths.Credit: Louise Kennerley

“For other subjects, like Biology or English, my initial focus would be more on understanding the content and not as much on attempting questions, until I had a thorough understanding of the concepts,” she said.

Self-care, rest and extracurricular activities also played a big role in helping her get through the HSC in a healthy and balanced way.

“The hardest part was staying motivated, especially during COVID lockdowns. However, going through it together with my friends and peers definitely helped. As many of us joked, it was a ‘collective experience’,” she said.

After graduating, Khan started studying optometry but has now transferred to medicine at UNSW Sydney.

For this top student, everything circles back to the attitude you bring to whatever you’ve taken on.

“The perspective you hold towards things makes all the difference. You get to choose your subjects, so learn about them with interest. After all, you’ll always be working towards something, so do you really want to spend your life stressing? Enjoy the learning process, and good luck!”

Khan’s tips for HSC Maths:

Want to know more about the common content in Maths Standard 2 and Advanced exam? Watch this:

Top tips from an HSC Maths teacher

Michael Murton, Bowral High School
Member of NSW Government Quality Teaching Practice Unit

Michael Murton.

To solve an HSC exam problem, look carefully at the information in front of you. Everything you need is there, however, correct understanding and interpretation are your keys for success.

Here is a question from the Mathematics Advanced exam:

The question explained by teacher Michael Murton.

Apply your skills and understanding

For HSC exam problems, plan a strategy based on what you have and where you need to get to, thinking about the steps between. Break down the question in this way rather than just trying to go straight to the solution.

To solve the given problems, determine the percentage rate per time period (per month in Option 1 and per quarter in Option 2) and the corresponding number of time periods required. Substitute appropriate values to find the values for Option 1 (using the future value formula provided on the reference sheet) and Option 2 (using the annuity table).

You should also have a reasonable estimate of the values of both investment options as you would expect both answers to be somewhat larger than the $40,000 invested, given the interest rate and time.

Check the reasonableness of your answer

Carefully look over your working and assess whether your answer makes sense in regards to the information in the question. Also, importantly, re-read the question to check that you have answered what has been asked. Use a concluding statement with your answer. In the given HSC question, a concluding statement could be:

“The difference between Option 1 and Option 2 is $40.87 ($45 097.17 – $45 056.30)“. Ask yourself, “Does this seem reasonable and answer the question?”

Most importantly, carefully and critically re-read your answers to ensure that they would make sense to a marker.

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