How to Get Better Grades in Math, Even If You Get The Right Answer.


“I got the right answer, why on earth would I worry about showing the work?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that in my 30-year math teaching career, I’d be rich. Getting the right answer is not the only goal in solving a math problem. In fact, I could make a case that it might actually be the least important part of solving a problem. Shocking, right?

One of the biggest battles waged by parents and math teachers alike is getting your student to show all the steps. Let’s start with the obvious and work from there.

1) If you want to get the best grade in your math class, you have to show your work. I’m not alone when I say that the right answer is nice, but it’s not everything. I don’t know of many math teachers that give full points on quizzes or tests for just correct answers. Since exams usually make up the bulk of your grade, it’s absolutely vital that you show as much work as you can possibly think of showing.

2. You need to show work so that everyone else knows you understand the work. It isn’t that hard to get a right answer and have no idea how you got it or why it is right. Both of those issues are key. Math is way more about problem solving than problem answering. It’s cheap talk just to shout out an answer. How do we know where that answer came from? Your brain, your neighbor, your neighbor’s paper? But, if you can PROVE your answer, then we all know that you probably mastered the concept. Teachers love this! We can’t get enough of you explaining your answer.

3) Proving your answer will get you that “A” you’ve always wanted. Just ask another student that only puts the answers down every time how great a grade they got. It was easy, it was fast, but, it was a miserable grade. People that get “A’s” in a math class not only show their work, but they generally have more than one way to prove their answers. It’s called double checking and it pays big in the end.

4) If you can explain it, you understood it. Even the best mathematicians have to show they really understood the concept. Do you think Einstein just said here's my idea and walked home? No way! He knew that if he wanted his general theory of relativity to be taken seriously, every single step had to be shown and justified. He would have been laughed out of University.

5) It’s going to take a lot of practice to get good at showing your work. You know you can do it in your head. Are you brave enough to show it on paper? Just slapping down the right answer is fast. Showing your work is, well, work. You should start by looking at how the teacher shows her work. If you don’t know what she’s doing, ask. Then when it’s time to do your own problems, try to follow the same steps as your teacher. Your half way home to that good grade. But, let’s make it a great grade.

6) Can you show another student how you got your answer? Even if you do get the right answer and can show some steps, if you want your understanding to go through the roof, then try to explain it to another person. It’s one thing to know your own thinking, it’s another thing to have someone else understand your thinking. Have someone check over the work you produce and ask them if it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, go back, add more content, show more steps, make sure your answer is legible and try again. Now if you can get another person to see the light, your teacher will see the light, you’ll see the light and you will end up with a bright shiny new “A” for your math grade.

So there you have it. Showing all the work in your math class will prove to your teacher you really understand the math concepts, will prove to yourself that you really did understand the material, and most likely end with a much, much better grade in your math class.

Now go out there and EXPLAIN yourself … uh, to the math world of course.

If you found this blog helpful, please feel free to share it. My name is Terri Grigsby. I do online math tutoring and in-person tutoring in the Portland, Oregon area. I am accepting new students, check out my website at www.tagtutoring.com, look around, and book a tutoring session. If you have any questions, you can always contact me on my website or at terrigrigsbymath@gmail.com

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