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Tips for studying math

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Vince S., Nov 1, 2005.

  1. Vince S.

    Vince S. Resident Former Bassist

    Jan 24, 2003
    Hey all

    I have a real problem with studying for my math course. I'm in Pre-calc II, and math has never really been my strongest subject. I'm really in hot water in terms of grades in that class.

    Whenever I sit down and try to study it, it just seems impossible. All I see are numbers and equations that don't make any sense to me. I understand the basic concepts, but I always mess up with the numbers and such. I can't really find a good way of studying it.

    I've asked my mom, only to be met with the "you just don't try hard enough" spiel. The thing is, I really am trying to learn the material, but I'm having a really hard time grasping it.

    Are there any ways to make it easier to grasp the material?


  2. bigbeefdog

    bigbeefdog Who let the dogs in?

    Jul 7, 2003
    Mandeville, LA
    Ask your mom to drive you to a bookstore, and ask her to pony up a few bucks for a "problem solver" type of book. When I was in school back in the Stone Age, the best of these was called Schaum's Outlines. Nothing but page after page of worked problems, with text between each step explaining what's to be done, and why. They'll have one for Calculus, or Pre-Calc, I'm certain.

    They were my "secret weapon" in math classes for years.

    EDIT: spelling
  3. DigMe


    Aug 10, 2002
    Waco, TX
    Sounds like you need a good tutor who can put things in a way that you can better understand more than you need a study method.

    Having said that, I feel like the best way to study math is to just do problems over and over until it comes easy. Most school math problems are just variations on the same problem, so once you get it down you've got it.

    brad cook
  4. Vox Populi

    Vox Populi Reggae Loving Honkey

    Jan 27, 2004
    Poulsbo, WA
    I suck at math.

    The only way I was able to make it through math classes was with help from someone. Usually my Dad. I had to have someome willing to take a lot of time explaining and re-explaining everything to me.
  5. zac2944


    Dec 28, 2004
    Rochester, NY
    +1 That is great advice.

    I was never good at math either, but managed to get through engineering school.

    For me the key was practice and repetition. But how do you practice and repeat if you can even do the first problem?

    Easy. You work through examples. Most math texts will have some examples in each chapter, but that may not be enough. This is where the "Problem Solver" type books come in. They will have many worked-out examples. Just follow what they do, and it should come to you. If you get to a step in the problem and you can't figure out what they did to get to the next step, highlight that step and ask you math teacher to explain it to you. Make sure that you are writing out and attempting to solve the problems yourself. Even if you have to "cheat" and use the example to help you, make sure you understand WHY they did what they did.

    This may seem like a lot of work, but after you work through enough problems you will gain understanding and confidence.

    Two other important things:

    1. Know your fundamental math rules. You need to memorize the rules for working with fraction, exponents, logs, etc. If you know the basics inside and out, you will have a much easier time with the Calculus stuff. I had a hard time with Calculus because I never mastered Algebra. If you can't memorize them, make yourself a cheat-sheet to use as a referance while doing your homework.

    2. Use your teacher! They get paid to teach; they are there for you, the customer. Try your best to bring SPECIFIC questions or problems to your teacher. Meet with them after school or send them email. If you tell them "I can't do this stuff" they won't know how to help you. If you tell them "I keep getting stuck factoring these 3rd order equations" they should be able to help you out. Good questions get good answers.

    Best of luck to you, and don't give up.
  6. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    Take it apart.

    "Studying the book" does no good. I'm currently finishing up a degree, and the last class I need? You guessed it...math. In my case, it's statistics two.

    The easiest way to get your act together is buy doing problems...do 'em, and keep doin' them until you've got the process down. Staring at the book and reading the same passages over and over will not get the stuff to work.

    I watch lots of college age people who don't understand how to take a problem apart and work with the pieces. When I get an exam problem, I start by pulling all the variables out of the problem and listing them with their appropriate symbols. Next I use the problem and the variables listed to guide me to the proper formula to use for the given problem.

    I notice that lots of people in class get very confused very quickly and are intimidated by all of the symbols and even the very layout of a problem. Then they panic, and its all down hill from there. If you're taking the problem to pieces and doing each step along the way, it suddenly becomes a series of not-so-difficult problems.
  7. I make mistakes. Stupid little mistakes, but in the end they all count together and... I'm a compsci student, and maths is pretty important, but nobody understands why I'm so bad at it. I know the rules, I'm good at the logic, but I just miscalculate.

    Anyway, things that will help you:) First of all, see if you know this problem. Most questions are just all the numbers you need in disguise. Start by writing down the basic formula you need for your problem and see what variables you have. The first thing I do on a test is write down every formula I had to study. Next, see if there is any way you can derive other variables from the ones you have (more formulas).

    Also, what kind of maths is this. Things like statistics (I'm not sure if this is the right term, I'm talking about percentages, averages and the likes, TV ratings,...) are pretty straightforward. I get by on this by studying the formulas. Things like 'real' maths (functions, (f)x = a^b² etc) are usually a matter of seeing the problem. Like burningskies said, the key here is to take it apart.

    Oh, and don't study the day before the test. Do lots of exercises at least a week beforehand. It's the toughest, but the best way of doing things.
  8. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    This is really important. When I sit down to do a bunch of problems, I first figure out all the variables and write them all down on the top of the page, but I also then go back to the part of the chapter where they do a problem, step by step. I go through the same process as they show and if I can't quite figure out why they've used a certain number or process, I'll go back through the chapter to find out where or why they did it.

    I always always give myself lots of time to do my homework. Most times, I'll spend an hour or so working on it until I've had enough and walk away for an hour or two...then go back to it when I've got a bit more patience.
  9. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Im in BC calculus riht now , hardest class ive ever taken. I might look to pick up one of those books.
  10. You could try working backwards. If your math book is anything like mine have been for the past 6 years(12th grade, in calc atm) it will have the answers to the odd problems in the back of it. My history did this all the way through college, he would get the answer, and work backwards through the problem using examples.

    Also, the problem solver book idea sounds good.