Study Skills in Mathematics – Introduction

Education is an investment in yourself, not just in your career.

There are many reasons for wanting to study; personal self-development and career prospects are probably the most important, and it is true that those with education form a flexible work force which is more able to take advantage of new situations and further training, and is less likely to become unemployed for long periods of time if at all. Being a mathematician myself, I reckon everyone should consider maths! Find out what maths graduates can do and why it’s fun to read maths at university by exploring the MathsCareers site

To find out what your degree will be worth in salary terms, read this BBC article from 2017.

You are very likely to change job several times during your working life, and education is the key to doing this effectively. You should therefore regard your studies as an investment in yourself, which will require you (and possibly your dependants) to accommodate the significant reallocation of your time and priorities. Under present funding arrangements, you are almost certain to be significantly in debt at the end of your studies. Obviously you must therefore make the most of your time at university, both in terms of work and play. I suppose you can handle the play part! This guide covers some ideas to enhance the work part.

Completing a UCAS form

Before getting to university, you will have to fill out a UCAS form; your tutors at school/college will advise you, but many students don’t fill out their Personal Statements as effectively as they could. Look at it from the Admissions Tutor’s point of view – they are academics who are keen on their subject and will want you to be too!

  • Do fill in your form when you are feeling positive and enthusiastic.
  • Do not include any claims or interests that you wouldn’t want to discuss at an interview! For example, if you say you have a deep interest in cosmology, expect to be asked about it at interview in some detail.
  • Present yourself as someone who has made a definite choice of degree (with reasons) and has ideas about what careers you might undertake on graduation.
  • Show that you are committed to studying by talking about coursework and/or the bits of the A-levels you have enjoyed most.
  • Mention activities, positions of responsibility or work experience that will portray you as a rounded, well-balanced and organised person.
  • If you intend to have a gap year, state why and what you will do during this time.

A good way to get started is to use the Which? University guide.

Your UCAS form must be PERFECT with NO spelling or grammatical mistakes. Get your friends/parents AND (UCAS) tutors to check it.
Did you spot the “deliberate” mistake in the above bullet points?

Here is a set of three personal statements with improved versions.



Choosing your course and planning your studies

Plan your course properly. It is essential that you choose your optional modules carefully, so that later module’s prerequisites and present module co-requisites are taken. This important information (and a complete set of syllabuses) will be in your will be in your Departmental web pages and must be discussed with your tutor and/or Course Director. Ask students who have done the modules what they think too. Your choices may be influenced by the assessment of the module (do you prefer exams or continual assessment?), the marks profile of the module (note: “softer” science modules have a smaller marks spread than “hard” science), your career plans, your intended choice of final year project, your other module choices, your track record so far, the lecturer/facilities concerned … but your choice should be dominated by your interests. This is, after all, probably the only time in your working lives when you’ll have this freedom of choice, so make the most of it! It is worth noting that employers do not often look for particular knowledge (except in a broad sense e.g. statistics) but they are looking for excellence in, and commitment to, your studies.

Your studies will be hard work, but hopefully enjoyable! Being at university does mean a shift from school though. You now have to manage your own studies and become an autonomous learner. Education is therefore something YOU do, not something that is done to you! You should certainly think about the points raised here and try to act on them in all your work; failure to do so can lead to problems.

The best place to start looking for material to help you manage your studies (apart from this site!) is at your Subject Centre web site: ask your tutor for details. Two good examples are Mathcentre and Economicsnetwork . This will give you advice within the context of your own discipline and this can be helpful in mapping general advice to your own needs.

The Industrial Training Offices, Library and Careers Service also have material on some of the topics below, and I have drawn on many of these sources whilst writing this guide.

Useful books include

  • “The student study skills guide” S. Drew and P. Bingham, Gower Paperback,
  • “Study skills for mathematicians” ed. P. Bishop and L. Nicholas, Sheffield Hallam University Press,
  • “The research student’s guide to success” P. Cryer, Open University Press,
  • “How to get a PhD” E. M. Phillips and D. S. Pugh, Open University Press and
  • “The Study Skills Handbook”, S. Cottrell, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • “Study Skills for STEM students”, P. Maier, A. Barney & G. Price, Pearson.

Useful books and software for study skills can be found at Skills for Study

For a wider perspective more suitable for students outside Science and Technology Faculties, look at these resources from the University of Kent, the University of Wolverhampton, the Open University, and 360gsp

Finally there are many Study Guides provided by US colleges (use a search engine). A good set of links can be found here. These are in an American context, but still useful and hey, they did put a man on the Moon! Also worth exploring is this information provided for distance learning students.

Self Assessment

Reflect on your learning to identify factors which enable you to work well or prevent you from doing so. Some students find working regular hours in a regular place is helpful, whilst others are more “inspirational” and work well at night, in bursts etc. What sort of learner are you?

Freshers are often invited/required to do diagnostic mathematics tests on entry to “see where they are at” mathematically. Do such tests and act on any weaknesses discovered; they will not go away and it is better to find out early, rather than in the exam, that you are missing something! Generally, you will not be expected to be able to do everything in these tests and the marks will not be used for assessment. To get up to speed, or to practice particular areas, you should try some practice questions. You can find much online help about other aspects of study at the Learn Higher portal.


Freshers also need to be able to use their UNIVERSITY email straight away; if you can’t, ask someone … important messages will be waiting for you in your mailbox!

You are not expected to lead some sort of monastic life at university – it’s important to have fun too! There is even a ‘serious’ side to this: in today’s fiercely competitive jobs market, anything that makes you stand out will help you get that all-important interview. Pretty soon you’ll be going for graduate-style jobs i.e. a profession rather than a job. This makes it all the more important to make some plans at the start of each academic year. Employers will be looking for interesting and mature people. Making the most of what universities have to offer will make you more interesting, especially if you try something new. The section on ‘Getting a job’ talks about how to include these activities in your cv.

There’s another aspect to this too – what one might call living positively. Engaging with all the good things university life has to offer will ‘punctuate’ your week and put your studies into perspective. Above all, it will be fun to get involved, so check out your the Arts Centre, the Sports Centre, volunteering opportunities etc.

About the Study Skills for Mathematics pages

These pages were originally created by Martin Greenhow.

Creative Commons Licence
Study Skills in Mathematics by Martin Greenhow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Study Skills in Mathematics – Introduction

Study Skills in Mathematics – Time Management

Study Skills in Mathematics – Lectures

Study Skills in Mathematics – Reading

Study Skills in Mathematics – Projects and Essays

Study Skills in Mathematics – Using Charts and Graphs

Study Skills in Mathematics – Problem Sheets

Study Skills in Mathematics – Experiments

Study Skills in Mathematics -Presentations

Study Skills in Mathematics – Revision

Study Skills in Mathematics – Exams

Study Skills in Mathematics – Help

Study Skills in Mathematics – Postgraduate Research