20 April 2018

Analysis shows that the majority of Senior Phase learners (grades 7 - 9) achieve below 10% in the Annual National Assessments (ANA) in mathematics. This indicates that most learners need to practice maths more in their Senior Phase in order to avoid compounded problems in the higher grades. 

An analysis of the correctly ­answered questions in national literacy and numeracy tests reveals learners at the beginning of their FET Phase (which is grades 10 - 12) have gaps in their understanding of fundamental mathematical concepts and struggle to apply basic skills.

Maths for the Senior Phase (grades 7 - 9) forms the basis of all learning that will be covered in the next phase (grades 10 - 12). Considering the reported quality of maths results in these later grades it is essential to put every effort into Senior Phase maths.

An inability to grasp maths doesn’t just affect maths. It has an effect on everyday life skills as well as other subjects at school. It has an impact on telling time (especially in the different formats); balancing a budget; increasing a recipe; counting money; etc. In geography it will be difficult to interpret and use maps; in science it will be challenging to balance chemical equations; to read thermometers; and the list goes on. Just as a language is the way we put our thoughts and ideas into words, maths is the way we put our words and ideas into numbers. What makes maths even more unique is that maths is a universal language!  2 x 3 = 6 is the same in any language.

There are a variety of different strategies and approaches to maths teaching to improve learners’ grasp and understanding of maths – some of these will be addressed in future articles. In this article we look at the influence of using maths study guides. Learners who use the study guides consistently and correctly grow in ability and confidence.

Why spend money on study guides?

Study guides are not textbooks, but support tools to enable learners to master all areas of maths. To be able to use study guides constructively they need to have the following:

  • An explanation of terms and concepts
  • Worked examples to explain and demonstrate
  • Activities with questions to answer
  • Answers to use to check own work

For many learners maths appears difficult because it takes time and energy to master – they then move on to study more complex concepts with a shaky foundation. As repetition is extremely important in maths, study guides are very useful in this regard. They should offer brief, clear explanations of each maths topic and an outline of all concepts.

The Blue Book Series Guidelines Study Guides from Macmillan are excellent examples of well-developed study guides.

Each study guide offers frequent examples with solutions, covers all required work thoroughly, and has lots of questions and answers to help with exam preparation. There is also a handy section for note-taking. They include straightforward summaries with exam and studying guidance, detailed explanations, and some tips for tests and exams.

Each section covers the work done in grades 7, 8 and 9 and clearly shows the progression in each topic. This helps learners to see the links between one year’s work and the next. They can go back to the previous year’s work if they have forgotten it or didn’t master it. The questions are asked in increasing levels of difficulty which enables the learner to move from the easier questions to more challenging problems. This also provides more challenges for advanced learners. Topics cover the content which has been identified as problem areas in the ANA.

In the Senior Phase it is extremely important for learners to spend as much additional time as possible on maths to master all concepts and skills. The study guides can be used as support while learning a topic, or as revision at the end.

How to use the study guides:


  • No need to work through the study guide systematically; use each guide while the particular topic is being covered in class and according to the grade the learner is in
  • Use either as a support while learning the topic or as revision at the end
  • Use questions and answers to practice as much as possible, as practice is the most useful way to become skilled in maths
  • Use questions and answers to prepare for tests and exams after studying all work in each section


  • Refer learners to summaries and useful tips in the first part of each study guide when that section is being covered in class
  • Recommend specific questions from each study guide to learners while the work is being covered in class, depending on the type of question the learners need
  • Notice when a learner has difficulty with a concept that should have been learnt in a previous grade and refer specific content and/or questions to the learner for catch-up or remedial work
  • Use selected questions for group work in class – ask learners to work through questions on their own, and then have group members check their work or discuss approaches and answers in the group


The study guides are compliant with the curriculum and include three grades in one book per topic. Each section has a brief outline of what the learner needs to know and be able to do to master a particular content area or topic, as well as a summary of what is required in each of the grades. They have a comprehensive set of questions that varies in difficulty levels and types, as well as a set of answers showing workings where applicable to confirm the correct steps.

All of the above makes them an ideal support tool for parents who would like to help their children prepare for tests and exams, and for strengthening their child’s understanding of maths in areas where they are struggling.

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