Some Tips for Successful Math Study

There is nothing about math that makes learning it different and more difficult than learning other subjects. Still, most students enter math classes with attitudes and expectations that make success difficult. Here are some strategies that will help you be successful in the math courses that you are studying.

1. Reading Math Textbooks Effectively

  • Read the assigned sections before class so that you will have some idea of what the instructor is teaching.
  • Work through the examples in the sections covered in class.
  • Develop your own note taking strategy. For example:
    1. On 5 x 8 cards write strategies for solving problems. Some textbook authors provide such strategies that can be copied exactly.
    2. You will also find it useful to write math rules, laws, or theorems on fact cards. These facts must be learned word for word.
    3. The third type of information you should extract and write out as you read your math texts is specialized vocabulary and symbols along with their definitions. Like the theorems, these definitions must be learned exactly word for word.
  • Do not look at the different sections of a chapter separately. In most cases, the sections in a chapter are inter-related and knowledge of the material in the previous section may be required to understand the next section.
  • Make use of the library for additional reference.

2. Taking Math Lecture Notes

  • Come to class prepared and do not miss classes.
  • Do not waste time writing what is in the textbook. You will, of course, have to read the textbook carefully before class to know what is in the book.
  • Get down what is on the board along with the explanation that goes with it.
  • If your professor moves so fast that you can't get both the board material and the explanation, leave blank spaces in your notes. Then within twenty-four hours, write additional explanations for each step of a problem so that you will be able to understand it when you study for exams.
  • Outline topics discussed and examples covered in class.
  • Be careful with symbols. Ones you use in other classes to separate points, such as the dash, turn into math symbols in math classes.
  • Ask questions and make sure that you understand everything that you wrote.

3. Preparing for Math Exams

  • Have clear definitions in mind and understand the meanings of theorems.
  • Go through the examples given in class or in the book; understand the concepts and the techniques used instead of focusing on the mechanics of solving a problem.
  • You really learn math when you work problems. Work as many homework problems as possible on your own (whether graded or not). Do not copy from a friend or from a book. Focus on understanding rather than manipulating numbers just to obtain the answers in the back of the book.
  • Do not wait until the last minute. Success in math is achieved through hard work, studying every day and never cramming the night before the exam.
  • Get all the help you can from your instructor or the tutoring service.
  • Go over previous tests and homework and correct mistakes.

4. Taking Math Exams (Test-Taking Strategies)

  • Start with the questions you know how to do.
  • When you go back to the unanswered questions, read each of them for clues to help you answer these questions.
  • Use your time well. If you are pressed for time, work on the problems that are worth the most points.
  • Never just write an answer. Always show all your work.
  • Remember that you are explaining to the professor what you know, so do it logically and clearly.
  • Check when you have finished to make sure that your answers are logical.
  • If you think you are missing a necessary piece of information, check to see if you calculated it or if it was given in a previous problem or in a previous part of the question.
  • Check to see if you used all the data given.
  • Proofread for careless errors.

5. Major Causes for Failing a Math Course

  • Lack of motivation. Unwilling to commit the time and personal effort necessary to master details of the course.
  • Not becoming serious about learning the material as evidenced by high absence rate in some lower-level math classes. Students miss too many class sessions and do not spend sufficient time on the material outside class, or they don't try to get help from instructors and tutorial services.
  • Failure to do homework.
  • Getting behind, letting things pile up, and trying to catch up after it is too late.
  • Inadequate preparation for the course and not having knowledge of the prerequisite material.
  • Not reading the book and relying completely on the lecture, or relying completely on the book and not taking notes of important things said in class.
  • The fast pace of some classes and failure to study at a steady pace.
  • Entering math classes with negative attitudes and expectations that make success difficult.
  • Poor high school backgrounds.
  • Not going over tests and homework and correcting mistakes.

  1. Wood, Nancy V. College Reading and Study Skills, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1986.
  2. Suggestions made by UTEP math faculty.

Studying and mastering math or any other specific subject could help you achieve and decide from one of many online degrees in the future depending on your skills.

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