Success in Mathematics


Tips on how to study mathematics,
how to approach problem-solving,
how to study for and take tests,
and when and how to get help.


Math Study Skills

Active Study vs. Passive Study

Be actively involved in managing the learning process, the mathematics and your study time:

Studying Math is Different from Studying Other Subjects

College Math is Different from High School Math

A College math class meets less often and covers material at about twice the pace that a High School course does. You are expected to absorb new material much more quickly. Tests are probably spaced farther apart and so cover more material than before. The Instructor may not even check your homework.

Study Time

You may know a rule of thumb about math (and other) classes: at least 2 hours of study time per class hour. But this may not be enough!

Problem Solving

Problem Solving (Homework and Tests)

Tips on Problem Solving

"Word" Problems are Really "Applied" Problems

The term "word problem" has only negative connotations. It's better to think of them as "applied problems". These problems should be the most interesting ones to solve. Sometimes the "applied" problems don't appear very realistic, but that's usually because the corresponding real applied problems are too hard or complicated to solve at your current level. But at least you get an idea of how the math you are learning can help solve actual real-world problems.

Solving an Applied Problem

For Further Reading:
George Pólya, How to Solve It,Princeton University Press, Princeton (1945)


Studying for a Math Test

Everyday Study is a Big Part of Test Preparation

Good study habits throughout the semester make it easier to study for tests.

Studying for a Test

  • Start by going over each section, reviewing your notes and checking that you can still do the homework problems (actually work the problems again). Use the worked examples in the text and notes - cover up the solutions and work the problems yourself. Check your work against the solutions given.

  • You're not ready yet! In the book each problem appears at the end of the section in which you learned how do to that problem; on a test the problems from different sections are all together.
  • Also:

    Taking a Math Test

    Test-Taking Strategy Matters

    Just as it is important to think about how you spend your study time (in addition to actually doing the studying), it is important to think about what strategies you will use when you take a test (in addition to actually doing the problems on the test). Good test-taking strategy can make a big difference to your grade!

    Taking a Test


    Getting Assistance

    When

    Get help as soon as you need it. Don't wait until a test is near. The new material builds on the previous sections, so anything you don't understand now will make future material difficult to understand.

    Use the Resources You Have Available

    Asking Questions

    Don't be afraid to ask questions. Any question is better than no question at all (at least your Instructor/tutor will know you are confused). But a good question will allow your helper to quickly identify exactly what you don't understand.

    You Control the Help You Get

    Helpers should be coaches, not crutches. They should encourage you, give you hints as you need them, and sometimes show you how to do problems. But they should not, nor be expected to, actually do the work you need to do. They are there to help you figure out how to learn math for yourself. Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
    SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY

    June 1993


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    Last modified: March 29, 2000