I’m always being forwarded GCSE maths hacks videos (like this one) claiming to provide a shortcut to maths success with some neat trick. While they’re a lot of fun to watch and often highlight a neat numerical pattern, they’re no substitute for actual understanding of the subject material and problem solving skills.

GCSE Maths Hacks: Anti-Learning

What works for one doesn’t work for all

Often these GCSE maths hacks will show you a trick that works for a particular question, or a particular type of question. They might not even include any explanation of why they work. So how do we know this particular GCSE maths hack will work for the problem we’re trying to solve, even if we remember the hack?

The answer is that we don’t, unless we work out why the hack works in the way it does, which means working out the theory being applied in the question. And if we understand the theory, do we need a hack, or just practise applying our problem solving skills to this theory?

Difficult to memorise

These hacks only work if we remember them, which means committing a series of GCSE maths hacks to memory before your exam. While that may be possible, it’s actually harder than learning the material on the curriculum. There are endless GCSE maths hacks and it would require an extensive library to cover the entire curriculum. Alternatively we can select a few trusted hacks and hope that those are the ones that answer the questions on our paper. But what are the chances of being that lucky?

It just doesn’t make sense to put the time and energy into memorising hacks instead of putting it into learning the curriculum and practising applying it to exam style questions.

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Understand the theory behind it

As I said, in order to correctly understand GCSE maths hacks and when you apply them, we need to understand the maths theory that makes them work. Which would mean that we don’t really need the hack, right?

This is potentially the one bonus I see in GCSE maths hacks videos. We can work backwards from the solution demonstrated in the hack to the theory that makes it work. It’s a good way to demonstrate mathematical patterns. But having analysed it in this way, we not only don’t need to remember the hack but will have gone one better by understanding the theory.

The correct application of mathematical theory will allow us to solve whatever question we are presented with for GCSE maths, with one additional skill.

Develop problem solving skills

It is important to practise solving a variety of problems in preparing for your exams, and as a valuable life skill. The mathematical problems we are presented with in exam preparation are a workout for the mind, and develop our ability to solve problems outside of maths.

In order to develop our problem solving skills we need to work with a variety of different questions, rather than see if we can find a shortcut that doesn’t require any understanding to apply. That misses the entire benefit of an education in mathematics.

Practice makes perfect

It is really important to keep practising these skills to develop our mathematical understanding and problem solving skills. This practice does not come through using GCSE maths hacks to find answers. It comes through understanding the problem and working out a route to the correct answer. Practice, practice, and more practice is how we get really good at this. Most of us study maths for ten years before we sit our GCSEs. Nothing about that decade of practice suggests that success comes overnight.

You can find lots of practice questions by topic at Maths Made Easy.

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Check your answers

How many times has a teacher told you to check your work? It isn’t to do their job for them, but because we often make mistakes that we can correct ourselves if we check our answers by checking our method, or using an inverse operation to work backwards. How can we do that when we’ve used a GCSE maths hack? We can’t check or reverse a method without first understanding it.

So while I encourage you to keep sharing any interesting maths videos you find, resist the temptation to memorise this hocus pocus and instead spend time understanding the logic behind the problem, so that you can solve any type of question that comes your way.

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