• Christian Paul

The language of Maths questions

It’s one of the most common problems in Maths.

The one that students complain about most frequently. And rightly so, honestly.

You see, most students don’t have a problem working through questions; once they know what they have to do.

But Maths questions are often so full of jargon that it can become difficult to establish what that actually is.

Maths Question Key Words

There are some frequently appearing keywords that can help to discern exactly what a written question is looking for. Once you know what these mean, translating those tricky problems gets a lot easier!


The easiest one! Unless there are other keywords, this one just means “find the numerical value”. No tricks here!


Any question using the word hence is trying to say “use the previous answer to help you/get you started”.

This often (but not always) means that the question will be very difficult, or even impossible, to complete without the previous information that the writer is expecting you to use.

In terms of

When a question asks for x in terms of y, it means that you need to find x, but that the y term will constitute part of the answer.

“In terms of y” does not mean that you have to find y; just that y will make part of your answer.

Show that

When a show that question is given, you are still supposed to work out the answer as if you don’t know it.

Contrary to popular belief, you are NOT allowed to use the answer given as part of your working out.

The answer is only present so that the subsequent question is possible to work through. Any question that uses the wording “show that” should be treated as if you don’t know the answer.


If a question uses the wording “given”, it means that it is asking you to use information that has been presented.

Most often, the trick to these questions is to take the “given” information, and then manipulate (frequently using algebra) until it resembles the answer to the question at hand.

Find the rule

Questions that ask you to find the rule are not questions that have a numerical answer.

These questions have either an expression, function or equation as an answer, rather than an actual value.

Use the keywords to decide what you need to do

These keywords are a bigger clue than most students realise. By taking advantage of them, you can quickly learn the quickest ways to rack up those easy marks.

Even without the mathematical knowledge, often these clues can turn the tide.

#furthermaths #methods #tipsandtricks

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