In Australia, mathematics has always had the reputation among many of being 'too hard' or 'unnecessary' (especially in the later years). Certainly, it is the cause of anxiety and stress amongst many students from primary school through to high school and at the university level.
Student frustration aside, what is more alarming is Australia's increasing decline in world ranking when it comes to mathematics and mathematical ability. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 results showed Australia ranking 29th in the world for maths — representing a significant drop over time.
“We have observed continuing falls in our results since PISA began in 2000 and yet again the data tell us we have failed to lift our performance. This is about much more than just ‘test-taking’ – it’s about how well we are preparing Australia’s students for adult life.”
~ Dr Sue Thomson, PISA National Project Manager ~
PISA rankings were also low in the other test areas of English and science literacy, though not quite as low as that of maths. Theories point to socio-economic inequalities as being the main factor for student disadvantage when it comes to results, but there is also an awareness of the effects of students starting school without a basic grounding, or exposure, to English literacy skills and basic arithmetic or numeracy skills.
Whether you see a standardised test as worthwhile, outdated or detrimental, the fact is they are here to stay. The other fact is that basic arithmetic and number sense is essential for people to actively engage in adult life.
If you know that you or your child have gaps in your mathematical knowledge, and you'd like to explore engaging a maths tutor, this guide will step you through everything from what to look for in an arithmetic tutor, the differences between available online learning and private tutoring help and an idea of pricing.
What is Arithmetic?
According to the Macquarie Dictionary, arithmetic is 'the branch of mathematics dealing principally with the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of real numbers'. Essentially, it is the core of all mathematical skills and subjects — algebra, trigonometry, calculus. However, it is also those arithmetic concepts and skills that are essential to navigate daily life.
A common student protest heard by many a maths teacher is 'but I've got a calculator on my phone' or 'what's the internet for?', but the fact is, while these apps and devices are certainly a quick solution, if you don't learn the basic concepts, you won't know if you've plugged in the wrong numbers. Suddenly, you have the wrong answer — and you're none the wiser.
To help you understand, it can be useful to take a look at what arithmetic is and even the history behind basic arithmetic theory. It's certainly possible that background knowledge such as this will make concepts clearer, or at least spark your interest, if you are struggling with your maths lessons or having a hard time with your test prep.
A good arithmetic tutor will also be able to help you learn about the history behind arithmetic.
What are the most common forms of arithmetic you'll find yourself learning and needing at different levels of education?
Primary School Maths
A primary school teacher, working with students from Prep and Year 1 through to Year 6, is tasked with teaching the basics of arithmetic — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Your primary school teacher will also give you a solid grounding in fractions, the application of operations in problem-solving and set the foundation for the more advanced concepts you'll encounter in high school maths.
High School Maths
High school maths subjects that build on (and rely on) basic arithmetic knowledge, include algebra, complex numbers and equations, trigonometric concepts, pre-calculus and more. Remember that other mathematical strands (space and measurement), as well as other subjects (such as science and social science, and even physical education) also rely on skills in arithmetic concepts.
To get into a university in Australia, you need a solid ATAR ranking, which includes a maths grade or score. Once in university, the maths concepts you will encounter vary according to your degree but, whatever you are doing, rest assured the assumption will be that you already have these skills and concept knowledge.
Of all the questions you may have now, the one to ask is 'What help can I get?'
Private Maths Tutor
There are private maths tutors available for all maths levels, all concepts and all students from your youngest child to adults in their eighties. In a nutshell, they're there to help you with anything you need to know about arithmetic.
When it comes to maths tutoring, you can be spoilt for choice in Australia — but that is not to say you shouldn't be careful. Make sure you ask for references and proof of experience from any maths or arithmetic tutor before you engage them!
For students in primary and high school, there are a number of maths tutoring agencies that offer both face-to-face and online tutoring.
- Kip McGrath Education Centre (maths and English tutoring for Prep to Year 12, $63 per session)
- Grace Simpkins Personal Tutors (Prep to Year 12, all subjects including maths, English and science, from $60 an hour)
- Kumon (Prep to Year 12, maths and English, $140 a month plus an initial enrolment fee of $100)
There are also a huge number of platforms offering to match students with tutors. Many of the tutors on these platforms offer private online tutoring and some also do face-to-face lessons.
- Cluey Learning (prices by application)
- Tutorly (prices range from $25 to $60 a session)
- University Tutor (pricing set by tutors)
The Superprof tutoring platform features a host of tutors for all subjects throughout Australia. Each tutor's profile lists their experience, relevant qualifications, specialisation and hourly rate. The average rate for tutoring is around $32 an hour, but the range depends on the experience of the tutor.
Learn Basic Arithmetic with Online Resources
If you're not in the market for professional tutoring right now, but still want to get some extra practice and boost your skills, there are a range of online resources you can use. Some of them are free, others have a monthly or year by year subscription.
This site caters for students from Years 1 to 12, covering all maths topics in the Australian curriculum, including fractions, the four operations and algebra. You can access some content for free and full membership for a year is $99.
Similar (but with more fun bells and whistles) to IXL, the Mathletics program is subscription only and follows the Australian Curriculum from Early Learning through to Year 12. Pricing starts at $99 a year for one child.
Consists of video tutorials, interactive worksheets and summary sheets, for students from Years 1 to 12. Prices start at $197 per year for one child.
What about university maths help?
Most universities have their own online learning hubs which list useful resources and other online platforms to assist students with their study.
And then there's every teenager's favourite teacher — YouTube. Seriously though, YouTube can be an amazing resource for any maths student. From one-off videos explaining a specific concept to a whole channel run by a maths teacher (think Eddie Woo) or enthusiast (think Eddie Woo again), you'll be able to find what you need for everything from basic arithmetic and fractions, through to algebra and trigonometry.
Check our comprehensive guide on arithmetic websites as well.
Maths Help for Free
Perhaps you learn best independently, or you may simply not have the budget for a tutor or online subscription. Either way, there are plenty of free options out there you can access.
The websites listed above are helpful but all involve a subscription, however, there are plenty of other online platforms you can use for free. Many of these are intended for a teacher to use with their students as drill practice or revision, but they are just as good to use at home. Do a search for 'free maths' games/worksheets/resources and browse through the list to find what you need.
Don't forget YouTube and TeacherTube as well.
If you need that one-on-one explanation but can't afford a tutor, you do still have options.
Start by asking your maths teacher or student services staff for recommendations. A maths teacher, or older student, may offer to run an after-school maths lab or homework help club. They may also know of services and resources in your local community.
Try your university library or local public library as well. Check the noticeboards and ask at the reception desk if there are any community classes that will suit your needs.
Also, offer to do an exchange — you can swap your time to help another student with English or science, for example, in exchange for their help with maths.
Online Rote Practice
Once you understand a process, sometimes you just have to learn and memorise the facts. There are a number of online sites that provide just that — rote practice. Check out our arithmetic questions guide and conduct a search for 'free maths practice worksheets'.