Our approach to teaching is based on the fact that we remember how hard some of Physics and Maths can be. When you start learning these subjects, there is often a lot of new, counter-intuitive material and if you don’t grasp it quickly, it’s easy to fall behind and lose enthusiasm. Some very intelligent people find anything scientific daunting and tough to get their head around. Often the way a problem is posed makes it much more difficult to solve than it need be. Just the look of a test question can be frightening enough to switch off a student’s thinking processes. The ability to coolly interpret the wording and relate that to previous examples is a skill that’s rarely acknowledged.
So the first thing is to assess what an individual student really understands. There is usually some unlearning of brittle half-truths and misconceptions to be done1. That creates a firm foundation on which robust understanding can be built.
Maths and Physics aren’t about rote learning. We don’t believe that repeated application of a technique you don’t understand helps at all. In an explanet tutorial class, like a junior version of a Cambridge supervision, students have a chance to show what they know and pick up on subtleties shared within the group. Nobody gets criticised for not getting it. Making some mistakes is essential.
Lord Kelvin, a premier-league scientist who was always making mistakes, set the standard for what we mean by understanding:
“I am never content until I have constructed a mechanical model of the subject I am studying. If I succeed in making one, I understand. Otherwise, I do not.”
It’s quite good enough to have that model in your head and to be able to use it to answer questions that you’ve never seen before. If the answers are correct, then you have really understood the subject. If they turn out to be wrong, we can look at the process calmly, spot the error(s) and fix the problem(s). No magic or genius required, just clarity.
We’ll be explaining things face to face via tangible examples (using a string of pearls to represent the flow of electrons, or slicing cheese to explain the summation of an infinite series, for example).
It’s hard to have someone look over your shoulder when you are struggling with a new type of problem. We tend to work through the solutions to a few problems step by step in class and then ask students to try two or three specific, illustrative examples at home. We supply hints and pointers, web links for background reading and respond to queries by email if you get stuck – but it’s vital that you engage with a puzzle first. This will help you identify where the gaps in understanding are.
We strongly believe that if you understand the material, exams stop being an ordeal and become a challenge that any school student can come to grips with. Once a student gains some control, they inevitably start to enjoy getting answers right, spontaneously demystifying aspects of the world for themselves (and quizzing us for more information).
Bear in mind too that the kind of clear, analytic thinking required by Mathematics and Physics is a very valuable skill when assessing the news, let alone algebra.
 We recommend everyone reads this book, whether they are tutored by us or not.