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Study Skills
Before the Term Begins

A math class is like a construction project. Before the real work begins there is organizing and planning to do.

Students are already behind if they instead treat a math class like a drag race, with a rushed start when they arrive at the clasroom.

How can you get ready for a math class during before the term begins?

This study skills eassy is a bit different from the others. It references many ideas from the other study skills essays to gather together what can be done before the term begins.

Organize Your Support Network link to here link to index

Consider what help you will need from other people. Thank your support network people in advance as a "heads up" that you might be seeking their help during the term. Do you a backup babsitter? Do you have someone who can drive you to class if your vehicle breaks down? Plan to minimize drama.

Schedule when to do prompt homework for 20 to 30 minutes as soon as possible after class. Schedule when to do the rest of you homework time will happen. Time each week for homework will not simply appear once the term begins! The hours each week set aside for homework are as important a part of your "class schedule" as the classes themselves. Do you need to adjust the hours you work? Do you need to arrange for more babysitting? Handle those details too.

Many students have trouble asking questions during class. If you are like that, find a personal reward or wager that will motivate you to ask some questions. Perhaps you will buy yourself a candy bar on the weekend if you asked at least one question during every class that week. Perhaps you will pick a friendly classmate and agree that each week whomever asks more questions during class will buy the other a coffee.

Math students have more success and fun when they work in groups. Plan ahead! Your instructor can help you even before the term begins. Get the instructor's e-mail. Because your instructor can only share student personal information with explicit permission, write a study group help request with details about when, where, and what contact information you are asking be shared. One example coud be "I want a weekly study group that will meet on Thursdays or Thursdays (but not both) after dinner for an hour. Please e-mail me.". Another example is "I want someone to be sitting by the phone on Saturdays at 1:00 pm so we can call each other if we are stuck. Please call me if you are interested."

Think beyond study groups. A famous saying by Jim Rohn claims, "People are the average of the five other people they spend the most time with." That may not be entirely true. But consider if you already have a close friend who can help with math, and provide support for your math learning outside of the time you have scheduled as math study time. If you do not already have that person, it is probably worth finding someone, at least for the duration of the academic term!

Look over the student responsibilities. Which need some work? Which need the kind of work that someone else can help with?

Finally, some instructors are willing to let students do homework in their office during office hours. This can be very helpful, because when you get stuck you can ask questions right away. If that sounds like a plan that could fit your schedule, ask your instructor about this before other students claim the one or two chairs in most instructors' offices.

Review the Math You Know link to here link to index

Study in between terms so you do not forget the math you know. Review your old math textbook. Do some of its chapter tests or cumulative tests. Re-read its chapters while covering steps of the example problems with a piece of paper, and try to do the example problems themselves.

Find other ways to keep practicing the math you know.

Get help at the Math Resource Center if you need it.

Remember your test taking strategies as you use the textbook tests or other tests to review.

Also use your review problems to practice the proper way to write step-by-step answers. Then you will have good habits when the term begins.

Read about note taking. Look at some online videos of math lessons that discuss math topics you already understand. Practice taking notes to these videos. Experiment to find which style of note taking works best for you.

Learning Styles link to here link to index

Many college students are familiar with the traditional trio of receptive styles: visual, auditory, and kinethetic.

receptive styles

Skip Downing, in his book On Course, proposes a different set of learning styles that is also very relevant to math classes.

Pages 213 and 214 of his book describe these four learning styles in more detail. You can read a PDF copy of those two pages.

Which receptive style is dominant for you? Which learning style is dominant for you? Know these before class begins.

Proactive and Reactive link to here link to index

The happiest math students are proactive. They focus on long-term goals. They arrange their schedules, habits, and ways of thinking to help themselves be successful.

But everyone is sometimes reactive instead of proactive. This usually happens when a situation seems either frighteningly difficult or an annoying waste of time.

What if that is true for you during a math class? If you become reactive, how can you react better?

Some helpful answers are in an essay I wrote to my sons. It is not about being a math student, but the applications are clear.

If you are already reactive before the class beings then these tips are even more important!