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Mathematical equipment

A basic set of mathematical equipment is essential to aid learning. Not only is it important to have your own set of tools, but you must also learn how to use them and this is not as easy as some make it sound. For example, a protractor or angle measurer is about as simple as a tool can get, but it is very easy to use it incorrectly and it takes practice, as with most skills worth acquiring, to make the skill your own. With any key stage 3 or 4 student, we will spend the time, not only to use them, but also to use them to solve problems, which is the secret behind all mathematical skills. Problem solving and the thinking behind problem solving is the reason we do mathematics at all.

Here is a list of the equipment you will need.

It is always a good idea to have lots of these. 2H are perfect, (though not for exams, where you will need to use an HB). However, whatever hardness of pencil you use, it must be sharp. If your pencil draws lines like a stick of charcoal it is of no use at all in mathematics. A line in mathematics has no thickness at all, and while this is not possible to show on a piece of paper, we try to keep our lines nice and thin.

You should have a 30cm ruler, preferably shatterproof and your ruler should have tiny depressions at each division. (These depressions will make it easier to use a pair of compasses accurately.) It is also useful to have a 15cm ruler of the same quality, as these are easier to carry around in a pencil case.

Pair of compasses:
The cheap compasses that come with "geometry sets" are not very good and are very difficult to use, as the screw is generally either too loose or too tight, so it is worth investing in a slightly better pair if possible. However, do be aware that you can spend a lot of money on compasses which unless you are an architect or similar, you will not require.

Standard compasses:
not great to be honest.

These are very expensive (and unnecessary!).

These come in two basic types: the half-moon, 180° protractors and the full-moon, 360° one which are often called angle measurers. Both are fine and which you get is a matter of personal preference. I think that the 360° ones are easier to use, but that is only my preference.

A word of warning about protractors: you can get them in any number of different colours (purple, pink, blue etc.), but there is only one that is any use: transparent with black lines and text. Sorry if this makes me sound boring, but sadly it is true. You cannot read a coloured protractor accurately, so please don't buy one.

360° angle measurer.

180° protractor.


Set squares:
Set squares comes as standard with most geometry sets and most people never use them. They can be a quick way to draw a right angle but they are used for little else in lower school mathematics. They become very useful with coordinate geometry and are invaluable in linear programming (which you will not meet before 'A' level.

Set squares.

Set square


Everyone needs at least one of these and I recommend that you have two, as calculators have a habit of giving out during exams. They should always be the same make and model as you must learn to use them correctly and having different calculators make this more difficult. Currently my personal preference for younger leaners is for the Casio FX-85GTPLUS which comes in black, pink or blue (I have several black ones and a pink one!). This is a perfect calculator for pre-16 mathematics and the last time I Iooked, you could pick one up on Amazon for £5.99 inc VAT, so you can probably buy two without breaking the bank.

Casio FX-85GTPLUS:
This calculator is inexpensive
and very good indeed.
It comes in other colours if pink is a problem.


For post-16 mathematics, many people find the many and various graphical calculators useful, though they are very pricey and I find them awkward to use. Often you can waste a lot of time trying to find the right keypresses in the incomprehensible maze of menus.

A good compromise is the Casio FX-991EX CLASSWIZ, which is new and currently costs around £25 and has some fabulous additions which an 'A' level mathematics student will find very useful.

Recommended for 'A' level.