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A Student Who Knows Very Little

Home > Maths Tutoring Blog > A Student Who Knows Very Little

A Student Who Knows Very Little

2018-08-03T00:34:49+00:00 Posted in All Categories, Starting Tutoring, Structuring Lessons by

My year 10 student is struggling overall with her maths, she is in the lowest class at and is finding it difficult to solve almost every type of equation and she barely knows her times tables without looking them up in a chart. Is there anything i can refer to to help with this or any suggestions? Most of my students so far have been quite the opposite and excel quite well in their maths study.

You paint quite a grim picture, like everything is wrong. That is a hard place to start, it is overwhelming. You will need to design a global, long term solution for this student, you can’t deal with this situation on a week by week basis. In order to start it is probably best to define the problem more precisely, to break it down in its constituent parts and then start work. Do some “consultative tutoring”. I would consider the following points:


  • Does the student want to succeed? Does she do all her homework? Does she understand how far behind she is? Does she understand what it will take to succeed? What exactly does she want to achieve? What is she willing to do to achieve her goals?
  • The student’s work ethic and attitude are the main variable in this equation. You must determine what level of success is possible given her attitude and ambition. If she wants higher results than you believe possible with her attitude then either lower her expectations or improve her attitude; otherwise she will not get the results she expects/desires.
  • Without MASSIVE action and MASSIVE changes, her situation will improve only slightly at best. She must have the right mindset to take the necessary actions.


  • Mathematics is based on a few pillars, these are some important ones:
  1. Arithmetic
  2. Algebra (in all its shapes and forms)
  3. Curve sketching
  • Without some serious strength in these areas your student will NOT succeed in year 11 and 12 and she will have extreme challenge learning new topics. Perhaps the lowest level math course can still be accomplished but not with very high grades.
  • Start working on the areas above one at a time. Do so continuously and never stop until she is a master of at least arithmetic and algebra. This is the language of mathematics; this is where you should start. Once she is strong in these areas, tutoring other math content will be much easier.
  • Students typically want to work on current school work. If she is not in tune with the meaning of mathematics then she will not want to focus on algebra if her class at school is doing probability. This is to be expected. You will need to consult with the student and/or parents to explain what needs to happen if they are to turn this situation around.
  • A good idea is to devote a part of every lesson and every homework assignment to arithmetic/algebra. If you do not, she will never speak this language well enough to do well in year 12.


  • By the sounds of things, a one hour lesson per week will not be enough to help this student. She needs some momentum to turn things around. I would wager that currently you spend all your time answering the most pressing questions she has from school and there is no time to focus on anything else? This kind of scenario quenches the craving she has for support without really teaching her to stand on her own two feet in mathematics.
  • Suggest having lessons more than once per week and/or increasing the length of each lesson.
  • Ask the student to start seeing the teacher at school for extra help once or twice per week. Without constant support she will not climb out of this hole, and the school teacher can be a huge asset when used correctly.
  • Increase the workload you give her for homework.
  • Put a program in place to turn things around. Plan 1-2 weeks ahead what you will focus on and what will be expected of her. Make sure she is included in the planning process and is agreeable. Ideally, you should also include her parents in the process, they can help to keep her accountable and she will need all the support she can get. Revisit your plan on a weekly basis; make improvements and changes as required.

Long story short:

  1. Help her achieve the mentality which will allow for success.
  2. Focus on the content which will make all the difference
  3. Increase the frequency/quantity of maths work.
  4. Put a plan into place and review it regularly.