Published on August 25, 2014 by Mario Pineda, Ph.D.
at http://drpineda.ca/how-to-study-math.html

You cannot learn mathematics by just going to class and watching your teacher work problems. In order to learn mathematics you must be actively involved in the learning process. Specifically, you have to

- attend class and pay attention while in class.
- take a good set of notes.
- work homework problems, even if your teacher does not assign any.
- study on a regular schedule, not just the night before exams.

The reality is that most people really need to work to do well in math, and in general they need to work harder at math classes than they do with their other classes. If all that you’re willing to do is spend a couple of hours studying before each exam then you will find that passing most math classes will be very difficult. If you are not 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.

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.

You always have to remember that mathematics courses are cumulative. Almost everything you do in a math class will depend on topics that you have 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 mathematics to be very difficult if you do not remember the knowledge that you learned during the previous semesters. If you find that you have forgot much of what you learned in math during previous semesters you should consider reviewing this material.

Try to write down everything that your teacher puts on the board. It may seem easy when watching your teacher solve problems in class, but it often is not so easy when it comes time for you to do it. A good set of notes will help remind you how to do these problems.

If you do not understand something then ask your teacher. Chances are you are not the only one who does not understand.

When other students ask questions make sure you listen to both the question and the answer. It may be that the student asking the question thought of something that you didn’t think of.

After each class you should review your notes. Note the topics that you found confusing and formulate questions that you can ask your teacher to help you understand the topic.

Make a set of index cards with important formulas and concepts on them. You can carry these around with you to look over when you’ve got a few spare minutes. Use them to help you memorize the important formulas and concepts.

Proper notation is very important in math and once you get into the bad habit of using improper notation (sometimes you may be tempted to take short cuts to save a few seconds) these habits can be difficult to break. On exams you will loose marks if you do not use the proper notation.

It is often helpful to study in groups. People often look at things differently so someone else may see how to solve a problem that can’t do or understand a topic that you find confusing.

Write down the due dates for homework and dates for exams some place you will see them so you don’t forget about them.

It often takes more time studying mathematics to learn the subject than you may require in other classes. Homework will often take more time than you had originally thought it would. Keep this in mind as you budget time.

At the end of each class budget some time to look over the homework from that days lecture and attempt to do it Doing this will allow you time to really work at understanding the concepts covered that day. Do not wait until the last minute to do the homework as this often results in an incomplete homework set and/or an incomplete understanding of the concept.

After the first few homework problems, put your notes and book up and try to do the remaining problems without referring to your notes and/or book. In most cases you will not have these during your exams so get used to doing problems without them.

Do not limit yourself to just the homework that your teacher assigns. The more problems that you work the better off you’ll be.

Practice as much as possible. The only way to really learn how to do problems is work lots of them. The more you work, the better prepared you will be come exam time.

You will not just instantly get every topic that is covered in a math class. There will be some topics that you will have to work at before you completely understand. The only way to really grasp some topics is to go home and think about it and work some problems. You will often find that after a little work a topic that initially baffled you will all of a sudden make sense.

Do not throw away homework and exams once you get them back. The homework is a good source of study material for exams and both the homework and exams is a good source of study material for comprehensive final exams.

If you get stuck on a topic that was discussed in class do not forget that you do have a textbook. Often the text book will contain examples not worked in class and/or a different approach to a problem.

If you are having trouble with your math class you have many options open to you and you should take advantage of them. You can ask your teacher during class, in-between class, during lunch or during study period.

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