TIPS ON HOW TO STUDY MATH (& fight math anxiety)
- Tips for succeeding in math:
- Choose an instructor you understand & feel comfortable with.
- Choose a section that meets at a time when you are alert & relaxed.
- Sit in or near the front row so as to optimize your attention.
- When choosing a math course, be sure that it is the one required for your major and/or
that it will transfer.
- There is a natural progression in the study of math: each course builds on a previous
course. You must master the foundation before moving on to the next course. You are
doing yourself a disservice, wasting effort, time & money, if you sign up for a course
without having successfully met the prerequisites.
- There is nothing wrong with dropping a course in which you feel you may get a low grade
or fail. It is better to retake a course later when there is a better chance to succeed.
- Some students have a natural talent for math but most dont. What you lack in
talent you can make up for with hard work & study. Self-discipline, motivation & a
sense of responsibility are essential for high achievement in math.
- Aim for 100%, not merely a passing grade in a math course.
- Try to stay ahead of the class instead of just keeping up. Once you get behind, the
obstacles may become insurmountable.
- Avoid large time gaps between math courses, or, at least, brush up well on material
(prerequisites!) you need to know before signing up for a class.
- Keep the notes & textbook from all your math courses until you are finished with the
sequence- you may need to revisit them when taking a more advanced level course.
- If you have been consistently failing the regular tests, it is very unlikely that you
will offset this by acing the final. Over-optimism can be your worst enemy.
- Learn to take responsibility & not make excuses or blame others. The grade you get
is the grade you earn.
- How to study math:
- The "rule of 3": for each hour of class you should plan to
study at least 3 solid hours per week by yourself, the actual
time required depending on your abilities.
- The following sequential approach has been proven effective:
- Get a head start: read from the textbook the next topic to be covered
in class to gain familiarity with the subject.
- Attend all lectures & take careful notes. Never miss class! If you
must miss a class, get the notes & homework from one of your classmates.
- Study from your notes & re-read the corresponding section from the
- Rework examples done in class & in the text.
- Attempt to do the homework problems, applying the approach, steps &
notation presented in class & in the text.
- Check your answers with the answers given in the back of the text or
in the solutions manual.
- Make a list of the questions that you may still have.
- It may often happen that in class you feel you have a clear understanding
of what your instructor says & does. This does not mean that you
know it, let alone that you have been able to master it. Only doing
it on your own & diligent practice will result in profound &
- When doing problems, ask yourself: does your answer make sense? Is
it reasonable? If so, what does it all mean in the context of this particular
problem? What are its implications?
- Ask questions: to your instructor (in class or during office hours),
to your classmates, to your friends. When you visit your instructor
during office hours, bring a list of specific questions. Dont
ask for answers. Ask for the explanation that justifies the answer;
ask for the logical argument in the solution. You must leave the office
convinced of the logic of the argument.
- Dont ask your instructor: "Is this going to be on the test?"
It is going to be on the test.
- Answer questions that your classmates may have. Helping or explaining
to others lets you gain a better understanding of math concepts.
- Form a study group & discuss the homework problems in this group.
- You paid good money for the textbook. Use your book, read it &
re-read it, work on the exercises, write in the margins, put question
marks where needed.
- Use the supplements that come with the book. Solution manuals can
be quite helpful. CD-ROMs can be very effective learning tools.
- Take advantage of technology, like graphing calculators or computer
software, to verify your results & get new insights, both graphically
- Use the phone. Use e-mail. Use the Web.
The Math Dept. (http://www.nvcc.edu/alexandria/science/math/index.htm)
has a home page that contains a list of links to sites that could
- Use the Math Computer Lab in AA 161.
- Try to earn extra points by doing bonus problems, problems of the
month, participating in math contests, etc.
3. Tips for taking tests:
- Make up a plan of study & organize your time accordingly.
- Know the previous material well. Math is cumulative!
- Try to find the links connecting seemingly different topics; get the
big picture. Ask yourself: why are we doing this? What makes this an
important problem in math? Why does the answer matter?
- Practice makes perfect: what initially may seem difficult & alien,
becomes very natural after much practice.
- Know the examples! They are potential test questions. Chances are
that problems appearing on exams wont be very different from examples
done in class. Know the examples!
- Do not miss the class meeting before the exam: important review may
- Some of the test material may have to be memorized. Understanding
it will surely make memorization easier. Moreover, math rules often
point to a domain where numerical experimentation is possible. You should
acquire the habit of, when in doubt, conduct the appropriate "experiment".
For example: is ? Well, the answer is no,
according to the following experiment: let . You can see
- The correct answer to a problem is a main goal. However, the logical
steps & thought process that lead to the answer are equally important
in math. Make the presentation of your solution as clear & comprehensible
as possible. Show all the steps in a natural & coherent progression.
Show all your work! Justify your answer! This has the
additional benefit of allowing you to get partial credit. Try to be
neat & well organized in writing your solution.
- Use your math intuition & make an educated guess when all else
- At some point in the test preparation process, you may be able to
predict the kinds of questions to be found on the exam. Your instructors
practice test helps. So does the chapter test in the book. Make up your
own exam & take it under exam conditions. This is also a great way
of fighting the "mental block syndrome" of math anxiety.
- After having successfully met all prerequisites, a careful &
solid preparation of all topics is the best-known antidote for overcoming
- When taking the exam:
- arrive early
- come well-equipped: pen, pencil, eraser, calculator, scratch
- read the instructions & do exactly as directed.
- read the problems carefully, maybe more than once, & relate
them to other problems you know.
- keep in mind that the order of the questions often corresponds
to the order in which the topics were presented in class/ the
- do the easy problems first; do not let yourself get bogged
- always show all your work & do the problems the way they
were done in class.
- use every minute of available time- check & recheck.
- if a question seems confusing to you, ask your instructor
- cheating, in any form, is ultimately self-defeating.
- Go over the exam when it is returned to you. Examine the problems
where you made mistakes & learn from them. Do this immediately &
- Keep a folder with all your tests & quizzes: this will be invaluable
when preparing for the final exam, which is often cumulative. The final
will most likely have problems similar to those on regular exams from
the semester. Know these problems!