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Maths at uni

In this module you will find the levels of maths required for your subject area. You can also test yourself and improve your maths knowledge.

Maths at University


You might be surprised by the number of assumed maths skills that you will need in areas of study other than the usual science and mathematics subjects. Students in Accounting, Agricultural Science, Biochemistry & Biotechnology, Biology, Biomechanics, Biomedicine, Business & Finance, Chemistry, Economics, Education, Engineering, Mathematics, Nursing, Physics, Probability, and Statistics, all need to demonstrate a level of maths skills appropriate to their discipline.

If you are a La Trobe student, you can visit the MATHS HUB for detailed information on what skills you will need for your discipline. There are resources and modules there, as well as help sessions. If you are a La Trobe student and you do not have access to the Maths Hub, you can request access by emailing

You can also brush-up your skills by reading through, and doing the exercises in, the worksheets provided in the Maths Worksheets section here.  These will give you a good start and encourage you to improve your skills further.

As well as specific maths skills within disciplines that you will be working with, you will need to demonstrate a range of maths skills to potential employers when you start employment. Some of the maths skills employers are looking for are listed below:


  • Using addition, multiplication, division, decimals and percentages with accuracy and precision so that calculations are correct (for example, for costings, counting, funding, estimations of growth/decay or price increases/decreases).


  • Using algebraic symbols to represent quantities or numbers enables you to solve problems; algebraic expressions could include t for time, s for seconds, V for volume, P for pressure, F for force, T for temperature, etc.


  • Using measurements and units of measurement, understanding how to convert units of measurement and how to multiply, divide and add them correctly, is essential for many disciplines (utilized by chemists, biologists, physicists, nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, engineers, etc.). Accuracy is often vital.

Geometry and Trigonometry

  • Interpreting maps and plans, modelling, calculating, estimating distances, lengths and angles, heart rhythms, tides, electromagnetic fields, simple harmonic motion, wavelengths, interference, light reflection and diffraction, and other similar phenomena.


  • Interpreting tables, graphs, and trends, predicting future outcomes, identifying errors and outliers, creating descriptive statistics, interpreting inferential statistics.



To learn maths successfully there are a few principles and strategies that need to be considered:

1. Be actively involved in the learning process

  1. Prepare by studying ahead. Read through the work to be covered in a later teaching session to identify where you may have problems in understanding. This preparation ensures that the teaching will not consist of entirely new material.
  2. Take notes during the teaching session. Participate in the teaching sessions. Come with teacher notes and textbook. Make notes that help you remember details later and write questions for clarification later.
  3. Revise after a teaching session to ensure the understanding is well embedded in long-term memory. Develop new problems in which to apply the new learning.
  4. Ask questions of your subject lecturer or tutor, or the Maths Hub support centre tutors.
  5. Try the pre-quizzes in the Maths Hub Modules for your discipline to see what skills you need to learn or refresh and utilize the Maths Hub worksheets to improve your skills.
  6. Review your errors to understand better. Set your page up to show your workings beside the calculation. You can then go over your work to find the error.
  7.  Go to a Maths Hub session to chat with a tutor who can guide you and show you the steps to successfully solve your maths problems.

2. Work to understand the principles

  1. Maths is a language. There are some essential rules which are often combined to produce logical consequences.
  2. Maths needs to be understood, not just memorised. Maths proficiency will improve if you understand what is being communicated. If you can’t understand then the missing element probably lies in a misunderstanding of mathematical language, or the way in which it is being applied.

3. Maths is cumulative

  • If you don’t have the basic knowledge, you will struggle to master more complex concepts. The four processes of addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, are the precursors of Algebra. Algebra and Trigonometry are the building blocks for more advanced maths such as Calculus and Differentiation.  

General study tips for maths

  1. There are a variety of ways of learning maths, and different methods suit different individuals. You need to find your best style(s) of learning.
  2. Practising estimation prior to attempting to solve a problem is often useful.
  3. There is no speed method for learning maths. It requires practice, practice, practice! Set up a study timetable in a supportive environment that allows for this.
  4. Ask for help as soon as you detect you cannot proceed with solving a problem. The Maths Hub has drop-in sessions at various times so that you can ask for help promptly.

Adapted and enhanced by Student Learning from

Dawkins, P. (2006). How to study mathematics. Retrieved from

Zeegers, P., Deller-Evans, K., Egege, S., & Klinger, C. (2011). Essential Skills for Science and Technology. Sydney, OUP.

Feeling a little anxious about maths is fine. But when that anxiety interferes with your ability to learn or perform, or you avoid maths altogether, the problem needs to be addressed.

What is Maths Anxiety? 
Maths anxiety has been described as:

  • A learned emotional response to participating in a maths class, working through maths problems, and/or discussing maths (Uusimaki & Kidman, 2004).
  • Feelings of fear and tension in anticipation of situations demanding the application of maths knowledge (Brunye et al., 2013).

People with maths anxiety may experience feelings of fear, helplessness, shame, and nervousness when confronted with maths (Uusimaki & Kidman, 2004). They will have negative beliefs and expectations of their maths ability and their thoughts will be consistent with these beliefs (for example,  “I can’t do this.”). A person who dreads maths will be more likely to avoid it. Not a bad short-term solution, but very unhelpful in the long-term. The more you avoid maths, the less exposure you get to maths, the fewer opportunities you will have to understand it and practise it. Avoiding maths contributes to lower maths competence and ends up supporting the negative belief in your maths ability. 

Do I have maths anxiety?
Sometimes, feeling anxious about a maths subject may be due to some other factor. For example, you may be finding it difficult to understand something because there is a gap in your knowledge base that needs to be addressed. Or you may generally feel fine about maths but in test conditions you get so anxious that you “blank out” and can’t access the knowledge you have. In this case test, anxiety is what needs to be addressed and it can affect subject matters other than maths.

Uusimaki, L. S., & Kidman, G. C. (2004). Reducing maths-anxiety: Results from an online anxiety survey. Australian Association for Research in Education Annual Conference 29 November–2 December, in Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from

Brunyé, T. T., Mahoney, C. R., Giles, G. E., Rapp, D. N., Taylor, H. A., & Kanarek, R. B. (2013). Learning to relax: Evaluating four brief interventions for overcoming the negative emotions accompanying math anxiety. Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 1-7. doi:

What can I do to reduce my maths anxiety?

Maths anxiety is a learned response and can be un-learned.

Often the first step in managing anxiety is becoming aware of the triggers for it and the factors that sustain it. In the case of maths anxiety, it means becoming aware of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that arise in response to maths and learning how to respond to them when they arise.

  1. As you manage your maths anxiety it will become less of an obstacle.
  2. Start “approaching” maths rather than continuing to avoid it.
  3. As you increase your exposure to maths you will gradually understand and practise it more.

If you’re finding it difficult to work with your maths anxiety on your own, you can contact the student counsellors on your campus for assistance. ​Access the following site and chose which campus you need:

The following two self-help books are a good place to start:

Prepared in 2015 by:  The Psychologist/Counsellors of the Student Support Services, La Trobe University.

Pathfinder link

Still have questions? Do you want to talk to an expert? Peer Learning Advisors or Academic Skills and Language Advisors are available.