Here’s one of two* topics that strike fear in the majority of maths A Level students. Trigonometry. According to Wikipedia, trigonometry is a “branch of mathematics that studies triangles”. Now, how many A/L students can define trigonometry this way? Very few. Most students would just mutter “triangles and formulas and stuff” (note the incorrect spelling of formulae). They know the subject matter given in the syllabus, and that’s it. It’s OK if you don’t have the slightest idea of what you are learning, as long as you can vomit it all out during the exam. I’m sure some students don’t even know what “trigonometry” is, but can readily identify “sin x/cos x = tan x”.

Trigonometry involves trig. functions sine, cosine and tangent, as well as secant, cosecant and cotangent. There are certain trig. identies such as the one at the end of the last paragraph. Actually there are a lot of identities, and many of them are in the maths syllabus. Double angle formulae, addition formulae, blah blah blah. Students mostly complain about the difficulty of studying these identities, and also about the greater difficulty of applying these identities correctly to questions. And also, you have to know how to draw graphs of trig. functions and their inverses.

Fortunately for London A/L students, the trigonometry is spread over two or three units. But local syllabus students are forced to learn it all at once (and vomit it all out at only one super-exam). But this does not comfort many students who hate trigonometry and anything associated with it. Sadly, most of A/L maths and further maths are associated with trigonometry, so this is a very bad attitude going into the exam.

I don’t hate trigonometry at all. I think it’s interesting and challenging. And I know I have to learn this stuff very well if I want to succeed at my exams. I wish most of my friends thought the same.

*The second topic is Calculus.


3 responses to “Trigonometry

  • Chavie

    I’ve always felt that the books that we do for the London exams as well as the syllabus itself has done a good job of gradually teaching the students various new concepts in an interesting manner. The same cannot be said sadly of the Local A/Ls, and to add insult to injury, a lot of questions in the Local A/Ls are out of syllabus! But this isn’t really surprising, since the aim of Local A/Ls is to fail as many students as possible and filter the microscopic amount of undergrads that our unis can handle, while on the other hand the aim of London A/Ls is to actually teach you something useful and get you through the two years and into a uni! 😀

    • lankanblogger

      @ Chavie
      I have to agree with you that the Lon AL books are good. I don’t think Local ALs have official textbooks at all.
      But the London AL syllabus has been minimized to help students get better results (you can see the results improving every session). This means that the work may be becoming easier, too easy sometimes.

      But I guess we should be happy that we don’t have to work as hard as students did several years ago. The only problem is that there is now more competition to get into UK universities. Also the universities are not too happy with the ALs.
      e.g. Cambridge and Warwick require the STEP exam in addition to the Maths A/L, because they don’t believe the A levels are enough preparation for uni.

  • shana donohue

    If I give s simple tri gproblem where one angle (other than the right angle) and one side are known, they obviously have to use trig to find one of the other sides.

    But do you think it’s overkill to use a trig ratio to find the third side or to just use a2 + b2 + c2?

    In any case, I made a silly trig video that I put on YouTube.

    I use a2 + b2 = c2 to find the last side but I feel guilty that it’s not a trig video through and through! But is it overkill?

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