Mathematical thinking and STEP

In my last blog I highlighted how establishing patterns in Maths is often the route to discovering theorems and solving complex looking problems.

STEP questions often challenge the student to recognise an approach established in an early part of a question and apply it to a more complex problem posed in later parts of the same question. This is demonstrated by the following STEP II question and solution.

In this question, you may assume without proof that any function for which is increasing, that is if (i)   (a) Let . Show that is increasing for and deduce that for . for Also for (b) Given that for , show that Let then  (c) Let for Show that is increasing and deduce that  from (a).

(Note that the re-arrangement of allows the use of (a) to prove the result).

It is now tempting to rewrite the result from (b) as to prove the desired inequality. However this would require showing that which is not true! So we need to look further!

This is essentially the crux of the whole question. Experience suggests that we look at results demonstrated previously to give  clues as to how best to proceed, but our first attempt to use (b) has proved unsuccessful.

However, the moment of inspiration arrives when we spot that yields the left hand side of the inequality.

Since is increasing   (ii) Given that for show that Again we now look carefully at previous results. We know that the given inequality yields so we look for an increasing function such that will yield the desired result. At first this does not seem obvious, but a simple re-arrangement of the inequality as follows provides the solution. So letting it is merely required to show that is increasing. and The rest of the proof follows trivially.

I hope this has provided some insight into developing Mathematical thinking and how many STEP questions are designed to test the ability to build on previously established results.

After all, that is how the whole of Mathematical theory has been developed.