Tag: Maths tutors

Maths Extension 2 tips from our top Maths tutors

Mathematics is one of the most rewarding subjects for your HSC, especially at the extension levels, where it’s one of the highest scaling subjects you can choose. Each year, the majority of students that score a 99+ ATAR did very well for Maths Extension 1 and 2. For maths extension 2 especially, each year the majority of the 21 or 22 students that score the perfect ATAR of 99.95 get 97+ for maths extension 2 as their HSC mark.

Even if you’re not aiming for such a high ATAR, doing well in any level of mathematics will get you closer to your goal in no small amount.

With every subject, there’s the content, then there’s technique. This fact is especially significant in maths extension 2 – things like knowing shortcuts / quick methods to verify the correctness of answers, how well you know your way around your Board-approved calculator, how well you understand the marking process and how to get partial marks, etc.

We all know the commonly told tips that your teachers at school have no doubt told you many times by now (e.g. writing partial answers for partial marks). Here’s a few lesser known tips our maths tuition classes give our students as part of our Extension 2 maths course:

  1. Volumes – easy way to check answer for volumes

Here’s a useful tip for the Volumes topic in Maths Extension 2 – Pappus’ Centroid Theorem. This theorem states that the volume of a solid of revolution generated by rotating a plane figure about an external axis is equal to the product of the cross-sectional area and the distance travelled by the cross section’s centroid.

Using this theorem, we can calculate all questions involving rotating a shape around an axis (e.g. circle around an axis to produce a torus) simply by finding the area of the cross section, then multiplying this with the distance travelled by the centroid of the cross section. It’s much quicker and reliable (because it’s simpler – less can go wrong) than using any of the prescribed methods, e.g. cylindrical shells or adding slices.

For example, what’s the volume of a circle, centre origin, radius 4, rotated about the line x=6? The answer is simply: the area of the circle – 16π multiplied by the distance travelled by the centre of the circle, which is 12π. The volume is therefore 192π^2 or 1894.96 cubic units. You can verify this with the cylindrical shells method.

Of course, in answering an exam question, you need to use the cylindrical shells method. The Pappus’ Centroid Theorem is just a useful tool to quickly check the correctness of your final answer. If there’s disagreement, you know you need to check your answer, and this would have easily saved you some lost marks!

  1. Volumes, integration and other applications – the area of an ellipse and the volume of an ellipsoid

Here’s another tip to make you quicker at checking your integration results. It’s also helpful for other topics (e.g. volumes).

It’s a good idea to memorise the area of an ellipse:

And the volume of an ellipsoid:

These are not too hard to remember because in the special case of the circle and sphere, r=a=b and r=a=b=c respectively, which causes both equations to reduce to the equations of the area and volume of a sphere respectively.

There are occasionally situations where you have a definite integral you need to evaluate, where the expression to be integrated is in the form of an ellipse. For volume questions, solids of rotation would often form ellipsoids and knowing the simple formula could give you a quick tool to check the correctness of your answer.

  1. Don’t be afraid to include explanations as part of your solution

Here’s a tip our extension 2 maths tutors love to give our students. In many situations in mathematics, especially in maths extension 2, some explanation saves you a lot of calculation.

For example, if you’re doing an integration and the form is that of a circle, instead of going through the x=sinα substitution, it’s easier to just write “This represents the area of a semi circle with radius r” – that’s all you need, then you can write the answer. Or if you need to evaluate a definite integral of an odd function with symmetrical limits, then the answer is always 0.

Sometimes you need to take cases – explain why some cases are impossible and this will save you time because you don’t need to cover them. Sometimes a graphical solution will show why one graph will never intersect another graph (hence no real roots to a related equation). The point I’m making is explanation goes a long way. The entire Mathematical Induction topic in 3 unit is based on explaining rather than using purely numbers, symbols and algebra.

Another situation would be proof questions (and we get many of these in Extension 2) that require you to prove LHS = RHS. Instead of starting somewhere random, you can start with what you’re trying to prove and write “If the above is true (what we’re required to prove), then:” and you can proceed to manipulate what you’re trying to prove. Just write ‘Then’ at the beginning of each line to signify you haven’t proven it yet, but if the original LHS = RHS, THEN so far these lines of working must all be true. Eventually, when you reach a situation that is in fact true (e.g. 1=1) then you’re finished, just write “And since the final line is true, the original LHS = RHS).

  1. Integration by parts – LIATE

We all should know how to do integration by parts by now – but sometimes choosing which one should be u and which should be v can get tricky. A reminder, here is the definition of integration by parts:


Choosing which one should be u (or f(x) if you prefer the first line) is an important decision – choose the wrong one and you’ll waste precious exam time going down a path that may lead to an impossible integral.

The general rule of thumb is to remember LIATE. LIATE stands for:

  • Logarithm
  • Inverse trigonometric functions
  • Algebra (general polynomials)
  • Trigonometric functions
  • Exponential

You should give preference to the left-most function to be set as u. The reason for this is as you move from the left to the right in LIATE, functions become easier to integrate, so you should prefer to integrate the easy ones (e.g. trigonometric functions and exponentials are easy to integrate) and differentiate the hard ones (e.g. logarithms can’t easily be integrated).

  1. L’Hopital’s rule

In the Graphs topic, there are many compound graphs that give rise to situations where you have infinite multiplied by 0. When this limit occurs, 3 possibilities arise:

  • Graph turns to 0
  • Graph turns to infinite
  • Graph turns to a constant

To find out how, we suggest to students to learn how to use L’Hopital’s rule to discover the relative speed of curves. This rule only applies when the limit below turns to infinite or negative infinite, or 0.

For example, lets see what happens to the graph at y=xlnx close to x=0. We set f(x) = lnx and g(x) = 1/x so that f(x)/g(x) = xlnx. When we evaluate the limit for f’(x)/g’(x) we find it equals (1/x)/(-1/x^2) which equals –x. This would turn to 0 as x approaches 0 so this shows the graph y=xlnx turns to 0 instead of negative infinite at x near 0. Incidentally, this is also one of our HR manager’s favourite questions to ask potential candidates for maths tutors, even if they tutor lower levels of maths (you’d be surprised how many people apply to be a mathematics tutor but can’t even graph y=xlnx).

  1. Use your calculator memory effectively

Become proficient in the use of your Board-approved calculator that you can take with you to the exam room. If you’re swift with using your calculator’s memory slots, this makes rechecking over your answers so much faster and accurate (if you happen to finish your exam with 20 minutes to spare, you can literally go through the entire exam once or even twice! If you’re good with your calculator, that is). And this helps even more in subjects like HSC Physics and HSC Chemistry where there’s lots of calculator work that requires a final definite numerical answer.

Another reason is exact values. Your calculator’s memory actually stores something to the order of 100 digits (much more than what’s only shown on screen when you press ‘=’). Sometimes when you’re supposed to get an exact value, if you put in your written down answer (that’s only rounded to 3-4 digits at most) you will get some answer like 1.99837734 but if you subbed in your memory-stored calculator, you will get an exact value of 2. In complex questions, even simple clues like knowing something is an exact value could be the difference between doing the question and skipping it altogether.

  1. Multipart questions (attempt part 2)

We should all know to be able to attempt the next subpart of an exam question by now. E.g. if you can’t do part a, which required you to prove a result to be used for part b, you should use the result to do part b so that you can still score partial marks for the question.

Sometimes even within a single part worth multiple marks, there are two parts to the question (e.g. “Show that LHS = RHS and hence derive an expression for acceleration of the particle.”) In these examples, if you can’t do the question as they intended, just use the result you’re given and finish the second part of the question for partial marks. If the question was worth 3 marks, you should at least get a mark for your efforts.

  1. Maths tutoring helps

Sometimes if you’re stuck with a teacher at school that’s not very knowledgeable, it would be wise to seek outside help. This situation is particularly common in disadvantaged schools – not all schools even offer extension 2, and for schools that do, not all their teachers assigned to the course are actually capable of teaching all parts of the course effectively. Getting outside help also gives you an important advantage over your peers when it comes to internal assessments (where you’re up against your peers for the top assessment ranks).

Extracurricular Activities – During the HSC

If you want to apply for scholarships, go into Medical studies or get a highly sought-after part time job after leaving school; it is always a good idea to get some extracurricular activities under your belt during schooldays. On the downside though, good extracurricular activities often take a large amount of time, and might distract you from your studies. Therefore, it is important to practice time management.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at what extracurricular activities you can do in high school that would help you with things like scholarships, entry into Medical College or while searching for a job later on.

Worthwhile Extracurricular Activities in High Schoolextracurricular-activities

As a high school student, the best activity to be involved in for most people is to get into some sort of sporting activities. Sports are an excellent to list on your resume, as it communicates several things to your interviewers:

  • You can work in a team (most sports are team-based)
  • You are competitive (that’s a great trait to demonstrate for things like scholarships and jobs)
  • You are a well-rounded individual (that is to say, you’re not just into computer games or Facebook)

The important thing here is to choose a sport that you truly enjoy. Do more than just play the sport – enter competitions, tournaments etc. This gives you more to talk about in an interview, other than merely saying “Oh I play soccer every weekend”. The point is to separate yourself from the rest – if you stand out, you will have a greater chance of success.

School related positions

High school students can also opt for school-related events or position. If you’re the School Captain, that’s an excellent portfolio. But even if you are not, try to be a School Prefect or an SRC representative. These positions convey that you possess leadership skills – a trait that is very favourably looked upon by interviewers for scholarships, entry into medicine or jobs.

Besides these, volunteer for as many things as you can at school which allows you to take responsibility for something. For example, if you’re good with computers, try to volunteer to help manage the school’s computer networks. If you have a knack for audio equipment, volunteer to help set up the audio equipment for the school hall for each event (e.g. dances, Talent Quests, general assembly’s etc).


Extremely competitive activities such as joining the Maths, Chemistry, Physics or Biology Olympiads reflects very well on your abilities in these subject areas, as well as your ability to manage your time effectively. For things like academic scholarships and jobs that require related skills, such activities are worthwhile, should there arise an opportunity.

One-off activities

You can also consider participating in one-off volunteering / fund-raising events, such as things like “40-hour famine” or those like “Duke of Edinburgh” awards. Keep in mind that these are often of lower significance to your resume than on-going activities, or achievements mentioned above. Only do these if you really enjoy them.

During the HSC

You should be more careful about how you spend your time in year 12th. Generally, it is a good idea to pause most of your extracurricular activities once year 12th starts (i.e. end of term 3 of year 11), since HSC is most important at this time. If you can intelligently manage time with your management skills (which is also very important), you can easily choose to continue doing all activities related to school duty.

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