By Carl R., IvyWise Master Tutor
The transition from middle school math to high school math can be intimidating. While the middle school experience helps lay a strong foundation for what students experience and learn in high school, that does not mean students are entirely exempt from the natural feeling of nervousness. Luckily, there are a few things middle schoolers and rising 9th graders can familiarize themselves with now in order to prepare for high school-level math.
Let us start with a question that is probably at the top of your mind: exactly how does middle school math differ from high school math? First, it gets so much better and, dare I say, more fun! The scope of the curriculum widens from arithmetic to algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and calculus. This shift helps open the door to a plethora of real-world applications and problems that deal with many different creative avenues. It makes math less about exact calculation and more about estimation and creative approximation. Students will find that high school level math allows them to think more critically and creatively uncover solutions through avenues that once were unavailable in middle school level math.
While the curriculum does become more exciting, students should keep this second difference top of mind: math does become more challenging in high school. From visuals to varying degrees of solutions, there is just a lot more to deal with! This is where things can become intimidating – but have no fear! Here are some general tips that can aid your transition from being a middle school math student to a full-blown high school mathlete.
Embrace the Visual Aspect of Math
If you are a visual learner, high school math will speak directly to you. With geometry, conics, and trigonometry, almost every problem can be understood through a diagram. Students should prioritize familiarizing themselves with picturing shapes and 3D objects, as well as the visual difference between acute and obtuse angles. See how an increasing slope looks different from a decreasing one. Embrace that the unit circle operates counterclockwise. The better you can picture a scenario, the more it will make sense to you when you have to apply it to a complex problem!
Not Everything in Math Is Black-or-White
There are varying degrees of a correct answer (some answers can be partially correct without being perfect.) The good news about this is that teachers will often give you partial credit if some of the steps you show are correct. Because of this, attention to detail is extremely important in high school math. In fact, the more advanced you get in math, the more each small detail will matter. This is especially true in calculus. One missed negative will completely derail a differentiation problem. The best way to get a handle on this? Stay organized. Make sure your notes are intelligible and write each step you take towards a solution clearly and legibly. While many teachers won’t make a big deal about poor penmanship, it is a huge liability in math! Remember: an organized notebook is an organized mind.
Master the Basics Before Freshman Year
The math that you learned in middle school (pre-algebra and arithmetic) will always be around. I find this to be especially true for multiplication/division and finding factors and multiples. In addition to this, some concepts always make a comeback. For example, students need to apply skills from long division when they learn about polynomial long division. Oftentimes, students need to be retaught this concept because of a lack of consistent practice and application. More than any academic subject, math is a cumulative study, which means if you stay on top of what you’ve already learned (i.e., keep practicing it), the connections you make to advanced math will be even stronger.
If you’re a middle school student and want to strengthen your foundational skills in math or any other subject of interest, consider meeting with an IvyWise tutor before your freshman year of high school. There is not much overlap in math classes between academic years, so it is a much better idea to develop a strong foundation in order to get ahead instead of risking falling behind. To all incoming high schoolers, have a fantastic summer. And get excited about math—it is about to get wonderful!