La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library



Maths at University

You might be surprised by the number of assumed maths skills that you'll need in areas of study other than the usual science and mathematics subjects. Students in Humanities/Social Sciences, English and Visual Arts, Business and Economics, Planning and Geography, and Allied Health need to demonstrate a level of maths skills appropriate to their discipline. Visit Maths in your subject areas for detailed information.

As well as specific maths skills within disciplines, you'll need to be able to demonstrate a range of generic maths skills to potential employers. Some of the generic maths skills which employers look for are:


  • providing quick estimates of growth, price increases, wage increases in stakeholder meetings
  • costing requirements for funding applications
  • counting quantities for a customer
  • using percentages and subtraction to give a discount
  • rounding numbers and estimating when writing a quote
  • using division when calculating costs per head


  • determining due dates, timelines and schedules across time zones
  • measuring an area of warehouse space
  • calculating fuel consumption
  • analysing penalty clauses in contracts


  • interpreting maps and plans
  • understanding planning regulatory requirements
  • developing models of buildings, cities, and interior spaces
  • calculating requirements for floor space, transport volumes, and feasible weights


  • understanding tables in reports
  • interpreting graphs and  trends
  • identifying errors and outliers
  • creating descriptive statistics
  • interpreting inferential statistics
  • advising probability of a positive outcome, related to the viability/materiality of the proposal

The above skills are in addition to the professional maths skills needed in some fields such as Nursing and Education.  [Adapted from Careers New Zealand]

Careers New Zealand. (2015). How literacy and numeracy skills affect job chances. Retrieved from

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

1. Maths is not a Spectator Sport: 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 text book. 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, a friend, a Peer Learning Adviser (PLA), or a Student Learning lecturer.
  5. Review your errors to understand better. Set your page up to show your workings beside the calculation. This means you can go over your work to find the error.

2. Work to understand the principles

  1. Maths is a language with a very simple grammar. There are few essential rules with 9 digits and 4 processes. Sometimes these rules are combined to produce a logical consequence.
  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 must lie in a misunderstanding of mathematical language, or the way in which it is being applied. Don’t proceed until you understand.

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 and multiplication are the precursors to Algebra. Algebra and Trigonometric Geometry are the building blocks for the more advanced maths later such as Calculus and Differential Equations. Identify where you may need additional skills by doing the Numeracy Success Indicator for your College.

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. Practise estimation prior to attempting to solve a problem. This ensures that you are really understanding what you are doing.
  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. Check out where you can ask for face to face help There are Peer Learning Advisors and Student Learning lecturers on all campuses. Your subject, course or College may also offer maths support workshops and programs. Links to all these services are found on “Where to get help page”.

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; even professors will admit to it! But when anxiety about maths interferes with your ability to learn or perform, or you avoid maths altogether, the anxiety is a problem that 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 (e.g. “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. Bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy!


Negative beliefs and expectations (I can't do this) leads to avoiding behaviour, which leads to less exposure and negative reinforcement.

As the diagram shows  - you just end up with even more negative beliefs and expectations!

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.

This survey will give you a sense of whether or not you experience maths anxiety.

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. ‚ÄčAccess 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.