I have always had a special relationship with math. Most of the time, I feel totally lost and hate math. But, every once in a while I’ll finally grasp a concept, or get a bunch of problems right in a row, and I’ll think “huh, maybe this math thing isn’t too bad.” And then five minutes later I’m lost again. Needless to say, I’ve struggled with math throughout my schooling. However, I took Intermediate College Algebra last semester, and managed to scrape by with an A. Here is how I did it:
Go to class!
Okay, this first tip is somewhat obvious, but go to class! It really will help you out in the long run (if only to raise your attendance grade). You can bet that I did not miss a single math class all semester (even if I hated every minute of it).
Use two notebooks
I’ve been doing this since high school, and have found it really useful! Use one notebook to take detailed notes during class. I would include step-by-step instructions for each kind of problem/concept. The more detailed this is, the more you will benefit.
The second notebook is for practice problems. I would work out practice problems from homework/in class examples/practice tests in this book. Then, later on when I was practicing for an exam, I could go back to this notebook and see exactly how I figured out the answer to a particular problem. This is also a great way to identify where you went wrong while answering a problem. Because of this, I try to show all of my work when I’m working out the problems, that way it’s easier to see what I did wrong.
Keep a list of practice problems
This one takes some extra effort, but is totally worth it! Write down problems from homework/in class examples that you think you can benefit from going over later. You can compile this list however you want; on paper, on the computer, or any other way that works for you. If you don’t have much homework/in class examples, there are many resources online that you can use to get practice problems.
If there is a practice test: do it!
Don’t ignore practice tests! I had friends in class who wouldn’t go through them, but they are one of the best resources for studying. Take the test, look at the results, and then go over the questions you got wrong. You can refer back to your practice notebook (where you worked out all of the problems for the practice test) to see what you did wrong, and use your notebook with the actual notes in it to help you solve the problem correctly. If you are still having trouble, you can refer back to the practice questions you saved from homework or class (or ones you found online).
Go over questions you were unsure of
This one isn’t necessary, but helped me a lot with my confidence. While taking the practice exam, mark any questions you felt unsure about. This could be because you are unsure of the method you used to get the answer, it was a guess, or you just don’t feel completely confident about your answer. Go over these, and see which ones you got right or wrong. Chances are, you probably were right about many of them even if you were unsure about it. Go over these problems again, even though you got them right. The goal is to make you feel 100% confident in answering questions, and this will help greatly.
If there isn’t a practice test: make one yourself!
This will take some work, but will be worth it. If you compiled a list of practice problems from homework and class, you can use those as a practice test! If you weren’t able to do this, or don’t have enough of these problems, there are tons of resources online that you can get practice problems from – sometimes you can even find entire practice tests!
Make sure you ACTUALLY know what you’re practicing
Something I am guilty of is incorrectly solving a problem, looking at the correct answer, and going “oh! I see what I did wrong, I’ll just fix it next time,” and then forgetting about it next time I solve a similar problem, and making the same mistake. And then the cycle repeats. In this scenario, I don’t actually understand the concept, I’m just pretending I do.
The important thing about math is making sure you understand why you are solving a problem a certain way, or why something makes sense. This will make it easier to remember how to solve the problems. But to understand why you’re solving something a certain way, you have to go over what you got wrong, and understand why it was wrong, and how to fix it. Which isn’t fun to do. But it’s necessary. So really make sure you understand something before you move on to the next thing. This is also important because a lot of math is about going off of previous knowledge and concepts, so it will help you out in the long run.
Go over everything, not just what you got wrong
While it is important to place a lot of focus on what you got wrong, don’t completely neglect the concepts you understand, or you might forget them. Even if you’re totally confident in your ability to solve a certain type of problem, it never hurts to practice!
Well, those are my tips! These may not work for everyone, but hopefully you can take something from this. Leave a comment telling me about your favorite math tips and tricks, because I sure need them if I’m going to survive actual College Algebra this fall!