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Active Study vs. Passive Study
Be actively involved in managing the learning process, the mathematics and your study time.
Take responsibility for studying, recognizing what you do and don't know, and knowing how to get your Instructor to help you with what you don't know Attend class every day and take complete notes. Instructors formulate test questions based on material and examples covered in class as well as those in the text. Be an active participant in the classroom. Get ahead in the book; try to work some of the problems before they are covered in class. Anticipate what the Instructor's next step will be. Ask questions in class! There are usually other students wanting to know the answers to the same questions you have. Go to office hours and ask questions. The Instructor will be pleased to see that you are interested, and you will be actively helping yourself. Good study habits throughout the semester make it easier to study for tests.
Studying Math is Different from Studying Other Subjects
Math is learned by doing problems. Do the homework. The problems help you learn the formulas and techniques you do need to know, as well as improve your problem-solving prowess. A word of warning: Each class builds on the previous ones, all semester long. You must keep up with the Instructor: attend class, read the text and do homework every day. Falling a day behind puts you at a disadvantage. Falling a week behind puts you in deep trouble. A word of encouragement: Each class builds on the previous ones, all semester long. You're always reviewing previous material as you do new material. Many of the ideas hang together. Identifying and learning the key concepts means you don't have to memorize as much.
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.
Take responsibility for keeping up with the homework. Make sure you find out how to do it. You probably need to spend more time studying per week - you do more of the learning outside of class than in High School. Tests may seem harder just because they cover more material
You may know a rule of thumb about math (and other) classes: at least two hours of study time per class hour. But this may not be enough!
Take as much time as you need to do all the homework and to get complete understanding of the material. Form a study group. Meet once or twice a week (also use the phone). Go over problems you've had trouble with. Either someone else in the group will help you, or you will discover you're all stuck on the same problems. Then it's time to get help from your Instructor. The more challenging the material, the more time you should spend on it.
Mathematics: Guidelines for Study
The University of Alabama Center for Teaching and Learning 124 Osband 348-5175 As a first step to learning mathematics, it is important to realize that mathematics is easier to study in small doses. While this statement is true of almost any subject, it is particularly true of mathematics. Two hours a day is a lot more productive than 10 hours one day a week. Although you may be able to read two novels in one weekend for a literature course, it is almost impossible to catch up on two weeks of math in one weekend. The study of math is cumulative with concepts building on those previously learned. You also need "soak time", a chance to think about concepts and ideas before another is presented. Second, mathematics is not a spectator sport; it is a do-it-yourself subject. You must work the problems for yourself and recognize that there is no easy road to success. The following guidelines, however, should be helpful to you in studying math. These techniques are related to previewing, note taking, text reading, problem solving, and problem analysis. 1. Previewing Previewing is an important, but not a very time-consuming part of your study. Before class, glance over the text material that will be covered in the lecture. Get an overview of the material by reading the introductory and summary passages, the section headings and subheadings, and the diagrams. Look at the problems at the end of the section to get an overall idea of the point of the lecture. This preview should serve as a general base for anchoring the new information presented in class. 2. Note Taking In class, listen actively while taking notes. Intend to learn from the lecture. Write down explanatory remarks about the problem. Note any particular conditions of the problem, how to get from one step to another, and why the approach to the problem is taken. Try to anticipate the consequences of a theorem or the next step in a solution. During a proof, keep the conclusion in mind. If you miss or don’t understand something in the lecture, jot down what you can and fill in the missing material later. As soon as possible after class, review and edit your notes. Use the margin or the back of the opposite page to summarize the materials and to list key terms or formulas. You can also use this space to take notes from the text, thus supplementing your lecture notes and creating an integrated study source. Review your notes at regular intervals, particularly as soon as possible just before and just after each class. 3. Reading the Textbook When reading the math textbook, first scan the material to obtain an overview. Then read carefully, making sure that you understand each part as you go. Since much of math is concept building, reading past a concept that is not understood may prove to be wasted time and effort. As you read, take notes on new definitions and symbols. It is especially important to translate abstract formulas into your own verbal explanations. Pay particularly close attention to derivations and sample problems. You should analyze the sample problems in the text, explaining each step in your own words and drawing diagrams to accompany these explanations. For practice, close the book and rework the examples in your own terms. Finally, note how the material relates to previous material, and stop periodically to recite the material to yourself. 4. Problem Solving Most of your study time should be spent working or studying problems. When working a problem, first read through the question to get a general overview. Second, state the unknown in your own terms and write down every piece of
information that is given. Next, devise a tentative plan to solve the problem by using one or more of the following tactics: a. b. c. d. e. f. Form relationships among all facts given. Consider formulas or definitions that might be relevant. Work backwards, asking yourself, "What do I need to know in order to find the answer?" Relate the problem to a similar textbook or lecture example. Solve a simpler version of the problem using small numbers. Break the problem into several simpler problems. Work part of the problem and see if it related to the whole. g. Check each step of the solution for correctness and clarity. Then, rewrite the solution from beginning to end, editing out blind alleys and false leads. 5. Problem Analysis After you have worked a problem, analyze it. Focus on the processes used (not the answer) and ask yourself the following questions: What concepts, formulas, and rules did I apply? What methods did I use? How does the solution compare with those in my text and notes? Can I simplify what I did? Explain each step using your own words. In this way you will sharpen your understanding of the problem and aid future study. The study tips suggested in this handout should help you to improve your performance in your math class. But remember that math courses are cumulative; if you have trouble with the material at the beginning of the course, it is likely that these problems will multiply later on. Consequently, you should seek help early if you encounter difficulty.
TEN WAYS TO REDUCE MATH ANXIETY
OK, so math makes a lot of people nervous. Is there any hope? You bet there is! Below are a few helpful hints. 1. You are not alone! Relax. Many people dislike and are nervous about math. Even mathematicians are unsure of themselves and get that sinking, panicky feeling called "math anxiety" when they first confront a new problem. 2. If you have math anxiety, admit it. If you pretend not to have it, you will not learn to overcome it or manage it. 3. If you're having math trouble, practice a little math each day. (Do you think Mozart learned how to play the piano or Michael Jackson learned how to dance just by watching?) 4. Ask questions. Some people think asking questions is a sign of weakness. It's not. It's a sign of strength. In fact, other students will be glad. (They have questions, too.) 5. Do math in a way that's natural for you. There's often more than one way to work a math problem. Maybe the teacher's way stumps you at first. Don't give up. Work to understand it your way. Then it will be easier to understand it the teacher's way. Remember, "each mind has its own method." 6. Notice your handwriting when you do math. The sloppier it gets, the more confused or angry you probably are. When it gets really sloppy, STOP. Look away for a few seconds. Then erase the messy parts. Start again. Try not to let your attitude interfere with learning math. 7. Know the basics. Be sure you know your math from earlier grades. Maybe you missed something when you moved to a new high school. Face it: Math builds on itself. You have to go back and relearn that stuff. (Don't think, "I couldn't learn it before, so I can't learn it now." Remember it's never too late to learn. Besides, you're older now. It'll be easier and quicker to learn.) 8. Don't go by memory alone. Try to understand your math. Memorizing is a real trap. When you're nervous, memory is the first thing to go. 9. Trouble with the text? Get another math book. Maybe a book in the library will explain things better. 10. Get help. Everyone needs help now and then. Try to form a study group with friends (two heads are better than one), take a review course, or work with a SLAC math tutor. SLAC also has a large math selfhelp library and educational math handouts.
STUDY SKILLS FOR MATH-RELATED COURSES
PREVIEWING Before class briefly preview the text material that will be covered in the lecture. 1. Get an overview of the material by reading the introductory and summary passages, section headings and subheadings, and diagrams. 2. Look at the problems at the end of the chapter. 3. Make note of new terms, theorems, and formulas. 4. Review (if necessary) old terms, theorems, and formulas referred to in the new material. 5. Formulate possible questions for class. Remember, the purpose of previewing is not to understand the material but to get a general idea of what the lecture will cover. This should not be a very time-consuming process. NOTE TAKING When taking notes in class, listen actively; intend to learn from the lecture. 1. Write down the instructor's explanatory remarks about the problem. a. Note how one gets from one step of the problem to another. b. Note any particular conditions of the problem. c. Note why the approach to the problem is taken. d. Note any drawings, graphs, or charts. 2. Try to anticipate the consequences of a theorem or the next step in a problem. During a proof, keep the conclusion in mind. 3. Note any concepts, rules, techniques, and problems that the instructor emphasizes. 4. Question your instructor during class about any unclear concepts or procedures. 5. If you miss something in the lecture or don't understand what's being presented, then write down what you can catch—especially key words. Be sure to skip several lines so you can fill in the missing material later. 6. As soon as possible after class, summarize, review, and edit your notes. a. Quickly read through your notes to get an overview of the material and to check for any errors or omissions. b. Fill in any information—especially explanatory remarks (see #1 above)—that you did not have time to write down or that the instructor did not provide. c. Use the margin or the back of the opposite page to summarize the material, list key terms, theorems, and formulas, and rework examples. You can also use this space to take notes from the textbook. d. Note any relationship to previous material; i.e., write down key similarities and differences between concepts in the new material and concepts in previously learned material. 7. Review your notes at regular intervals and review them with the intent to learn and retain. TEXT READING If your class lectures provide a good overall structure of the course, you can use your text to clarify and supplement your lecture notes. In order to create a single study source, insert the notes you take from the text into your lecture notes themselves as well as in the margins or the back of the opposite page. If your text provides the best overall structure of the material, then you can use your lecture notes as the supplementary source. In either case consider the following procedures: 1. Briefly preview the material. Get an overview of the content and look at the questions at the end of the chapter. 2. Read actively and read to understand thoroughly. a. Formulate questions before (from lecture notes or from previewing) and read to answer those questions. b. Know what every word and symbol means.
c. Translate abstract formulas to verbal explanations or graphic representations. d. Analyze the example problems by asking yourself these questions: What concepts, formulas, and rules were applied? What methods were used to solve the problem? Why was this method used? What was the first step? Have any steps been combined? What differences or similarities are there between the examples and homework problems? e. Further analyze the example problems by using the following procedures: Explain each step using your own words. Write these explanations on paper. Draw your own diagrams to illustrate and explain problems. For practice, write down example problems from your books. Close the book and try to work the problems. Check your work with the example to find what concepts, rules, or methods you are having trouble with. f. Check to see how the material relates to previous material. Ask yourself these questions: How was the material different from previous material? How was it the same? What totally new concepts were introduced, and how were they applied? Where does this material "fit" within the overall structure of the course? 3. Stop periodically and recall the material that you have read. 4. Review prerequisite material, if necessary. PROBLEM SOLVING Solving problems is usually the most important aspect of math-based quantitative courses. You must, therefore, spend much of your study time either working or studying problems. When working a problem, follow these steps: 1. Read through the problem at a moderate speed to get an overview of the problem. 2. Read through the problem again for the purpose of finding out what the problem is asking for (your unknown). Be able to state this in your own words. 3. If appropriate, draw a diagram and label it. 4. Read each phrase of the problem and write down (symbolically or otherwise) all information that is given. 5. Devise a tentative plan to solve the problem by using one or more of the following tactics: a. Form relationships among all facts given. (Write an equation that includes your unknown.) b. Think of every formula or definition that might be relevant to the problem. c. Work backwards; ask yourself, "What do I need to know in order to get the answer?" d. Relate the problem to a similar example from your textbook or notes. e. Solve a simpler case of the problem using extremely large or small numbers; then follow your example as if it is an example from the text. f. Break the problem into simpler problems. Work part of the problem, and see if it relates to the whole. g. Guess an answer and then try to check it to see if it is correct. The method you use to check your answer may suggest a possible plan. h. If you are making no progress, take a break and return to the problem later. 6. Once you have a plan, carry it out. If it doesn't work, try another plan. 7. Check your solution. a. Check to see if the answer is in the proper form. b. Insert your answer back into the problem. c. Make sure your answer is "reasonable." During the problem solving process, it is often helpful to say out loud all of the things you are thinking. This verbalization process can help lead you to a solution.
PROBLEM ANALYSIS After you have worked a problem, analyze it. This can help sharpen your understanding of the problem as well as aid you when working future problems. 1. Focus on the processes used (not the answer) and ask yourself these questions: a. What concept, formulas, and rules did I apply? b. What methods did I use? c. How did I begin? d. How does the solution compare with worked examples from the textbook or my notes? e. Can I do this problem another way? Can I simplify what I did? 2. Explain each step using your own words. Write these explanations on your paper. TEST PREPARATION If you have followed an approach to study as suggested in this handout, your preparation for exams should not be overly difficult. Consider these procedures: 1. Quickly review your notes to determine what topic/problems have been emphasized. 2. Look over your notes and text. Make a concept list in which you list major concepts and formulas that will be covered. 3. Review and rework homework problems, noting why the procedures were applied. 4. Note similarities and differences among problems. Do this for problems within the same chapter and for problems in different chapters. 5. Locate additional problems and use them to take a practice test. Test yourself under conditions that are as realistic as possible (e.g., no notes, time restriction, random sequence of problems, etc.). Also, try to predict test questions; make up your own problems and practice working them. TEST TAKING 1. Glance over the whole exam quickly, assessing questions as to their level of difficulty and point value. Also get a sense of how much time to spend on each question. Leave time at the end to check your work. 2. Begin to work the problems that seem easiest to you. Also give priority to those problems that are worth the most points. 3. Maximize partial credit possibilities by showing all your work. 4. If you have a lapse of memory on a certain problem, skip the problem and return to it later. TEST ANALYSIS Analyzing returned tests can aid your studying for future tests. Ask yourself the following questions: 1. Did most of the test come from the lecture, textbook, or homework? 2. How were the problems different from those in my notes, text, and homework? 3. Where was my greatest source of error (careless errors, lack of time, lack of understanding material, uncertainty of which method to choose, lack of prerequisite information, test anxiety, etc.)? 4. How can I change my studying habits to adjust for the errors I am making? IMPORTANT: The knowledge of most math/science courses is cumulative. Many concepts build on previous concepts, and a poor understanding of one concept will likely lead to a poor understanding of future concepts. Keeping up with your homework is essential. Consequently, you should seek help early if you encounter difficulty.
TWELVE MATH MYTHS
1. MEN ARE BETTER IN MATH THAN WOMEN. Research has failed to show any difference in mathematical ability between men and women. Men are reluctant to admit they have problems so they express difficulty with math by saying, "I could do it if I tried." Women are often too ready to admit inadequacy and say, "I just can't do math." 2. MATH REQUIRES LOGIC, NOT INTUITION. Few people are aware that intuition is the cornerstone of doing math and solving problems. Mathematicians always think intuitively first. Most people have mathematical intuition; they just have not learned to use or trust it. It is amazing how often the first idea you come up with turns out to be correct. 3. MATH IS NOT CREATIVE. Creativity is as central to mathematics as it is to art, literature, and music. The act of creation involves diametrical opposites—intensely and relaxing, the frustration of failure and elation of discovery, the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces fit together. It requires imagination, intellect, intuition, and an aesthetic sense about the rightness of things. 4. YOU MUST ALWAYS KNOW HOW YOU GOT THE ANSWER. Getting the answer to a problem and knowing how the answer was derived are independent processes. If you are consistently right, then you know how to do the problem. There is no need to explain it. 5. THERE IS A BEST WAY TO DO MATH PROBLEMS. A math problem may be solved by a variety of methods that express individuality and originality—but there is no best way. New and interesting techniques for doing all levels of mathematics, from arithmetic to calculus, have been discovered by students. The way math is done is very individual and personal and the best method is the one with which you feel most comfortable. 6. IT'S ALWAYS IMPORTANT TO GET THE ANSWER EXACTLY RIGHT. The ability to obtain approximate answers is often more important than getting exact answers. Feelings about the importance of the answer often are a reversion to early school years when arithmetic was taught with the idea that you were "good" when you got the right answer and "bad" when you did not. 7. IT'S BAD TO COUNT ON YOUR FINGERS. There is nothing wrong with counting on fingers as an aid to doing arithmetic. Counting on fingers actually indicates an understanding of arithmetic—more understanding than if everything were memorized. 8. MATHEMATICIANS DO PROBLEMS QUICKLY, IN THEIR HEADS. Solving new problems or learning new material is always difficult and time consuming. The only problems mathematicians do quickly are those they have solved before. Speed is not a measure of ability. It is the result of experience and practice. 9. MATH REQUIRES A GOOD MEMORY. Knowing math means that concepts make sense to you, and rules and formulas seem natural. This kind of knowledge cannot be gained through rote memorization. 10. MATH IS DONE BY WORKING INTENSELY UNTIL THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED. Solving problems requires both resting and working intensely. Going away from a problem and later returning to it allows your mind time to assimilate ideas and develop new ones. Often, upon coming back to a problem, a new insight is experienced which unlocks the solution. 11. SOME PEOPLE HAVE A "MATH MIND" AND SOME DON'T. Belief in myths about how math is done leads to a complete lack of self-confidence. But it is self-confidence that is one of the most important determining factors in mathematical performance. We have yet to encounter anyone who could not attain his or her goals once the emotional blocks were removed. 12. THERE IS A MAGIC KEY TO DOING MATH. There is no formula, rule, or general guideline that will suddenly unlock the mysteries of math. If there is a key to doing math, it is in overcoming anxiety about the subject and in using the same skills you use to do everything else.
Ten Ways to Survive the Math Blues
1. Figure out the Big Picture: Find out why you are doing this math. How does it fit with your other courses (science, geography, English, engineering)? You could do some Internet searches on the math you are studying and include "application". Get a sense of where you are going and why you are doing this. Mathematics is compulsory in most of the world – there has to be a reason… 2. Get on top of it before it gets on top of you. Yep, mathematics is one of those things that builds on prior knowledge. Yet many students learn stuff only for an examination and then promptly forget it, setting themselves up for later difficulties. Learn for the future, not for tomorrow’s test. 3. Read Ahead. It is strongly advised that you read over next week’s math right now. You won’t understand it all, but you will have a better sense of what is coming up and how it fits with what you are doing this week. Then, when your class goes through it later, your doubts and uncertainties will reduce – and you will understand and remember it better. 4. Use more than one resource. It often happens that you can’t follow the teacher’s explanation and your textbook is very confusing. Borrow 2 or 3 textbooks similar to your own from your library and read what they have to say about the topic. Often they will have a diagram, a picture or an explanation that gives you the "Ahhh – I get it!" that you desire. 5. Don’t join the Blame Game. Teaching mathematics is tough. Teachers really have to work hard to make math fun, interesting and engaging. It is easy to blame a teacher for a bad grade, but who is really responsible for your future? 6. Practice makes Perfect. You don’t expect to be able to play guitar or drive a car without practice. Well, learning mathematics (unfortunately) involves some slogging away and doing exercises. Don’t get bogged down, though – use your other resources to help you through the homework. 7. Time Management. Start homework assignments as soon as you get them. There may be some things on there that you haven’t done in class yet (because maybe it is not due for a few weeks). That’s good – it helps to focus your thoughts so that when you are doing that section in class, you know that it is important and you’ll know what you don’t know. Nobody plans to fail – but many fail to plan… 8. Don’t fall into the trap of copying from a friend to survive. They probably have the wrong answer anyway. Besides, a lot of students resent being asked for their assignments for copying – they are too afraid of a ruined relationship to say no. Hey, you can do it – have the confidence in your own ability. 9. Never, never give up. Math uses a different part of the brain than most other things in school. It can be stressful when you can’t figure out something. Work on something else for a while and come back to it later. 10. Keep a sense of humour! Don’t lose the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mistakes. Mistakes are not the end of the world – they are the beginning of real learning!
Reasons Why People Have Math Anxiety
1. People don't try to understand; they just memorize. 2. They are underprepared - MATH IS CUMULATIVE. How to Study Math 1. Keep up - review notes after class. 2. Take good notes - put everything from the board on paper. 3. Read the text - if you don't understand, get help. 4. Get a study friend. 5. Have a set time to get math homework. Treat it as a scheduled class. The math lab is a good place to do homework. How to Study for Math Exams 1. Start at Day One - do homework. 2. Memorize formulas - use flashcards. 3. Rework problems that you missed on the homework. Math is Problem Solving 1. Read the full question. 2. Analyze and Compute. 3. Given/Find/Need: -- what's given? -- what do I need to find? -- what to I need to do? 4. Draw pictures - can simplify problem. 5. Use a calculator - do calculations twice. 6. Check your results - do the problem again another way.
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