How to Study Mathematics

There are two groups of people here reading this document, those that are happy with their grade, but are interested in what I’ve got to say and those that are not happy with their grade and want some ideas on how to improve. Here are a couple of quick comments for each of these groups.

If you have a study routine that you are happy with and you are getting the grade you want from your math class you may find this an interesting read. There is, of course, no reason to change your study habits if you’ve been successful with them in the past.

If you are not happy with your grade in your math class and you are looking for ways to improve your grade there are a couple of general comments that I need to get out of the way before proceeding with the tips. Most people who are doing poorly in a math class fall into three main categories.

The first category consists of the largest group of students and these are students that just do not have good study habits and/or don’t really understand how to study for a math class.

The next category is the people who spend hours each day studying and still don’t do well. Most of the people in this category suffer from inefficient study habits and hopefully this set of notes will help you to study more efficiently and not waste time.

The final category is those people who simply aren’t spending enough time studying. Students are in this category for a variety of reasons. The vast majority of the students in this category unfortunately, don’t realize that they are in this category. Many don’t realize how much time you need to spend on studying in order to be successful in a math class. Many simply aren’t willing to make the time to study as there are other things in their lives that are more important to them. While that is a decision that you will have to make, realize that eventually you will have to take the time if you want to pass your math course.

Now, with all of that out of the way let’s get into the tips. here into specific areas such as general study tips, doing homework, studying for exams, etc. However, there are three broad, general areas that all of these tips will fall into.

Math is Not a Spectator Sport

You cannot learn mathematics by just going to class and watching the instructor lecture and work problems. You’ve got to take a good set of notes. You’ve got to work homework problems, even if the instructor doesn’t assign any. You’ve got to study on a regular schedule, not just the night before exams. In other words you need to be involved in the learning process.

If you aren’t willing to be actively involved in the process of learning mathematics, both inside and outside of the class room, then you will have trouble passing any math class.

Work to Understand the Principles

You can pass a history class by simply memorizing a set of dates, names and events. You will find, however, that in order to pass a math class you will need to do more than just memorize a set of formulas. While there is certainly a fair amount of memorization of formulas in a math class you need to do more. You need to understand how to USE the formulas and that is often far different from just memorizing them.

If you don’t understand how the formula works and the principle behind it, it can often be very difficult to use the formula. For example, in a calculus course it’s not terribly difficult to memorize the formula for integration by parts for integrals.

Mathematics is Cumulative

You’ve always got to remember that mathematics courses are cumulative. Almost everything you do in a math class will depend on subjects that you’ve previously learned. This goes beyond just knowing the previous sections in your current class to needing to remember material from previous classes.

You will find a college algebra class to be very difficult without the knowledge that you learned in your high school algebra class. You can’t do a calculus class without first taking (and understanding) an Algebra and a Trigonometry class.

So, with these three main ideas in mind let’s proceed with some more specific tips to studying for a math class. Note as well that several of the tips show up in multiple sections since they are either super important tips or simply can fall under several general topics.

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