Online Math Tutoring Tips: Make Sure Your Student Is Ready for High School Math

As the eight grade is wrapping up for the summer and middle school graduations are beginning, many parents start to wonder how best to prepare their student for high school classes. One of the most common concerns is in mathematics – and rightfully so.

Before high school, many school districts structure math progression loosely each year. That is, the classes don't usually have specific names, just general distinctions like "Math 3" or "Math Honors" or "8th Grade Math." Maybe your student has taken a class called "Pre-Algebra" or even "Algebra I" by 8th grade, but chances are they've been learning a variety of math skills (like basic operations, word problems, dimensional analysis, early graphs, basic geometry, shapes, and vocabulary – the list goes on). But now, in high school, they might expect to tackle more specific areas like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and the ever-dreaded calculus.

Is your student prepared for these classes? If they aren't doing well in math classes now, how can they remedy this before high school? Is it guaranteed to get worse? On the other side, many students who made good grades in math in middle school struggle in high school and see their grades slip. How can they avoid this?

As a tutor who has helped many students preparing for or beginning high school who were in both of these situations, here are the things you should be thinking about to get your student ready.
Emphasize Arithmetic. A Lot.

The common skill that all math classes in high school require is a mastery of arithmetic. Your student should be able to do their number operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing) perfectly and quickly. They should be able to do them all with negative numbers, decimals, and, yes, even fractions.

This is an area that many students struggle with. And it has nothing to do with being smart or good at math. They might be an A student who is keeping up with the new concepts, but they keep making mistakes or taking too long to get an answer because they're basic math skills aren't up to par. On the other side, they may be a struggling student who will continue to struggle because they aren't an expert at the fundamentals yet.

Being great at basic math will boost confidence and success at all other levels of math. Every question will be answered more quickly and with fewer mistakes. These skills do not take extra teaching or learning either, usually just the necessary repetition and complexity to get better.

Start Standardized Test Prep Early

Everyone thinks that you need to be a senior to have learned enough math to take the SAT and ACT. This is not true. This misconception stems from the way these questions are worded and constructed; they are made to look more confusing and complex than they really are.

Starting a student with standardized test prep early (from a reputable source that utilizes official material) will boost their confidence and increase their scores when the real test comes around. There will be math concepts that they have not learned yet, but not many. These can be a chance for an experienced tutor to teach them new skills for the future, or an important test-taking skill to quickly recognize unanswerable questions and not waste valuable time on something you can't confidently answer.

Work Ahead in a Few Areas

One tactic that I employ with my students who are preparing for future math classes is to use my experience to help them master key topics ahead of time. That is, we do not start going through next year's curriculum to try to learn everything. Doing this, the student will likely forget most of the things we learned by the time they reach them in class. We also do not just master the beginning of the class. Sure, this could help them have strong grades and understanding at the beginning of school, but the drop-off when they reach new material could be detrimental.

Instead, I choose three or four skills that I know will be emphasized in their next class. Ideally, I know that these topics will also be used in future classes. We learn those skills, and we work on them repeatedly with increasing complexity – including giving small tests. By doing this, the student will not have learned everything they need to know for their next math class. But by using only a few choice skills, we are making sure that they remember those skills for the rest of high school and are an expert on them. Being perfect in a few main areas is will be much more beneficial for math success than having a small amount of knowledge in many areas.

If your student is preparing for high school math, consider these tips to help guide their success. An experienced math and standardized test tutor can help guide them to find and fix their weaknesses and give them new strengths for the future. Make sure your student is perfect with all of their arithmetic (certain times tables, negative number, long division, and fractions are all common potential problem areas). Don't wait until a few months before their big tests to start standardized test preparation. And don't make them learn a whole host of new material that they are just going to forget over the summer if you could make them an expert at just a few things instead. If you're unsure about tutoring, consider mentioning these topics as areas you want to focus on with a potential online math tutor.

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Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.