It’s a popular misconception that you can’t really study for math. People who say you can’t will admit that you can do math assignments and math homework. But actually studying it–looking at material in order to better on tests and upcoming assignments–that, they say, is impossible.
They’re wrong. It’s true that studying math is different from studying any other class. After all, math is about more than just remembering certain facts. But it is something that you can study for–and studying will get you better grades, just as in any other course.
Think of it like sports. It’s true that you can’t get good at basketball by memorizing facts, like you can in a science class. But you can get good by combining learning with a schedule of continuing practice. This is the way study for a math class or test works. You study by learning the facts–and then spending hours trying to work problems for yourself, learning the methods and formulas that you’ve been studying.
On average, with most class tests or classes, you should put in two hours of your personal time for every hour that you meet in your math class. Research has shown that what differentiates the good math student from the bad is not how willing they are to practice the principles they’ve learned, but how willing they are to do it, whether they like it or not. Again, that’s as true of math as it is of sports. If you are preparing for an exam like the AFQT, HSPT or SSAT, you will need to put in more time.
Tips for Studying Math
1) Review right after class. Getting math facts that you’ve just newly learned into your long-term memory is tough. Immediate review, I.e., studying right after you’ve been exposed to the new fact, is more effective than if you review it a day or two or more later. This is one reason that it’s smart to do your homework and related review activities immediately after your class, or no more than a few hours later. It helps you remember things better.
2) Don’t try to multitask while studying math. This might work while you’re reading for a history or science course, but it rarely works for math. To truly master new formulas and principles, your brain has to be fully engaged in the math that’s in front of you. This means no talking on the phone, no watching TV, and no listening to anything except soft background music.
3) Follow this formula while learning math: Read it, recite it, do it with notes, do it without notes. Let’s examine that a bit closer. First, read the new math concept that you’re learning–let’s say division by negative numbers. Next, recite it. Pretend like you’re a teacher, trying to explain to students how to divide by negative numbers. How would you explain it. Keep reviewing the material until you’re able to explain it without referring to your notes. Third, DO some problems, while looking at notes. Usually your notes will explain a step-by-step process, so follow this process closely as you work on a few division-of-negative-numbers problems. And finally, after you’re doing these with confidence, give up the notes and try them on your own.
4) It’s not enough to know the basics you must master them. There are lots of rules in higher level mathematics, but rest assured that being able to recite that rule will not help you much come exam time. You must know at a gut level how to work that rule. So the way you study is by practicing the rule with one problem after another until it becomes second nature to you.
5) Stay focused. Math is an abstract an analytical subject. It requires sustained focus. You must concentrate when you study it. You’ll learn faster if your mind stays on the problem at hand.
6) If you’re the kind who thinks math seems like a foreign language–then treat it like one. Strive to learn the vocabulary and the “grammar” (how the numbers go together). You might get a boost by learning to “speak in math.”
7) Incorporate your own learning style as you study. If you’re a visual learner, you need to learn to develop visual aids for the new principles you’re learning. Maybe you work better with groups; then find a math study group. If you prefer privacy, then make sure you get alone when you study.
8) Always try to relate what you’re learning to real-world situations. We remember what is important to us, so if you can think of actual situations where you might use the new math concept, you’re more likely to be able to remember it.
9) Have patience with yourself. Math, perhaps more than any other subject, requires skills that you can only learn after much practice and mastery. Your patience is an absolute necessity.
10) Be sure to motivate yourself with periodic rewards after you achieve certain milestones. Maybe you get a movie after you’ve mastered those five formulas, or you get to take the weekend off once you have a firm grasp on that new chapter. And why not? Mastering math is an important thing–and well worth celebrating.
11) Finally, as with any other studying, take frequent breaks. If math is not your subject, you might need more or more frequent breaks than with other classes–because math can really tax your mental faculties. So don’t stress yourself. Study at comfortable intervals, and then relax for a few minutes, and then start again.
This method will show you that, not only can you study for math courses and tests, but you can study in such a way that your grade will benefit.
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