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Succeed with maths: part 1
Succeed with maths: part 1

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6 Using maths in the real world

Quite often, you will need to decide how to tackle a problem, as well as consider what information you need. That can be a lot more challenging than working through some examples in a textbook.

However, it can be very useful to visualise problem solving as loop, in which you follow a series of steps to solve a problem. You can then repeat these if your answer needs further investigation or refining. We’re going to call this the maths cycle.

The steps in the cycle are summarised in Figure 4.

Cycle: describe problem; collect information, make assumptions, simplify problem; do the maths; interpret answer.
Figure 4 Mathematical modelling cycle

So you can see that the four main steps in this cycle are:

  • Describe the problem – do this as clearly as you can, remembering to discuss with others if you need to.
  • Collect information and make any assumptions – make sure you have everything you need to solve the problem.
  • Do the maths – decide what mathematical techniques to use.
  • Interpret the answer – so you know what this means practically and check that it is reasonable.

If the answer doesn’t look plausible, or isn’t sufficiently accurate, you may need to refine the assumptions and go through the cycle again.

Now you’ll see how the maths cycle works in practice.