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Notes on Success in Learning Mathematics - Based on Years of Talking to Successful Students  

There is a great deal of independent work required to be successful in this or any college course, and  part of the college experience is helping you become an active, independent learner.  The approach to this course may be significantly different from courses you have taken in the past, particularly if you are coming into the course directly from high school. 

The rule of thumb for success in any college course is that you should be spending at least 2 hours working outside of class for every hour in class. This translates into at least 6 hours of outside work for a 3-credit class, and 8 hours for a 4-credit class. Below, I have listed some  Simple Keys to Success as well as some more extensive "truisms" that will help you maximize your learning.

Bean with KeySimple Keys to Success


Practice, practice and practice some more!!  Discuss questions with your classmates or a math lab tutor.  Set up time most days to at least do a couple of exercises.


Work with math exercises and material on a regular and consistent basis to learn the material presented in class. If you had trouble with a particular idea, continue to work with it regularly to ensure that the material "sticks" with you!  Make time most days to try some homework, review your notes, or read material in your book.  The more consistently you think about mathematics, the more likely it is that you will truly come to understand the intricacies of the subject.


Work with ideas SOON after class.  Brain research shows that if you don't review ideas soon after hearing them, then the effectiveness of the lesson diminishes rapidly!  Even just reviewing the notes, and thinking back through the material presented in class can have a profound effect on how well you process the ideas.


 Actively work to learn the language of mathematics, so that you can articulate your questions and your process of solution.


 Mark your questions clearly so that you can ask them at the beginning of the next class.  Let sticky notes become your new best friend!


Use the resources available!  That includes asking me questions, talking to classmates, using the math lab, and reading the book.


Give math the time it takes!  Devote enough time outside of class to reading, practicing, reviewing notes and becoming proficient with the technology. (The standard college rule of thumb is  2 hours of work outside of class for every hour in class.)


Other Truisms


While it is essential to understand that learning material and making it your own requires significant individual work, you MAY also find it helpful to spend some time working with others. This gives you the opportunity to discuss ideas, utilize the terminology, see things from another perspective, and develop essential communication skills. 

Mathematics is a language, and as such, you must both write and speak the language to fully master the material.  It can also be helpful to make connection with others who may be having the same frustrations, or who can help make things "click".  

No matter what your experiences have been in the past, I assure you that there will be at least one other student in the class who can communicate about mathematics in a way that suits your own style. As you become more and more willing to open up and share ideas and thoughts, you will find that the material becomes more interesting and engaging. This helps make all the work this course takes seem worthwhile.

If you are out for any reason, it is your responsibility to find out about and make up any work that you miss. Having someone from class who you can call, text or email will be a big help in this regard. 


Upset Bean Please guard against spending a lot of time "spinning your wheels".   Instead create an effective system of marking areas of concern or confusion, and seek input as soon as possible.  Always realize that you should find that questions, and even some areas of confusion do occur regularly.  This is indicative of material at the appropriate level of challenge. If everything was easy, you would not be expanding those brain cells!


Bean with Question You may often find that if you leave the material alone for a while, insights or ideas may come to you. Your brain is amazing, and can often sift through material even if you are not consciously thinking about it.


Bean Juggling Because of demands from other courses and other commitments, it may be challenging to keep up with the work load all the time. However,  try to do some work regularly - even if that means just reading through and completing your notes, or filling in some description for an exercise done in class. It is best if you make sure you build in some time each day to at least attempt some of the practice exercises. Setting up a "Work Plan" for each day can help you start the semester off right for all of your courses. Keeping the material current in your mind will help you maximize what you learn during class time, and allows for the opportunity to have lots of little details "click" into place.





Material created by J. Halsey - Updated Fall 2015 - This material should not be used without permission of  J. Halsey.

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