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The Problem with Math

Student sitting in class thinking about math work

Studying for (and succeeding in) math is different than other subjects. Math is cumulative, meaning it builds upon earlier concepts and already mastered skills. This fact alone is not necessarily a problem, but the pace at which teachers must move through the curriculum certainly can be. Not every student learns at the same pace: some students need more time to fully grasp a subject, while others need less.

But if it’s time to move on to a new unit and you’re still confused about the current one, how can you keep yourself from falling behind?

These 10 tips can help:

1. Do Your Homework: Obvious, right? Even if you believe you understand a concept/skill clearly, doing all the assigned homework can help make the concept cement in your brain. Imagine the questions as practice test questions: complete them correctly during homework and you’re more likely to complete them correctly during a test.

2. Know Your Textbook: Since math is cumulative, your textbook is a chronological guide to what is coming up next. Review chapters BEFORE entering class to prep your brain for the new lesson, and to get a head start on seeing how new material connects to previous material.

3. Ask in Class: If you get a sense that a new concept is harder to wrap your head around, ask for clarification in class. Not speaking up, then finding out you can’t complete the homework because something is confusing, puts you a day behind. While in class, listen to other students’ questions as well, as they may help you understand your own, or offer to complete questions on the board even if you’re unsure what you’re doing. Practice makes perfect.

4. Understand the Method & the Process: Knowing formulas is important, but if you don’t know how or when to use them, you can’t be successful. Take the time to understand the principles behind the formulas to truly understand math concepts.

5. Prime Your Brain: Math is easier if your brain is ready for it. Do a few fun brain teasers before sitting down to complete homework or study for a test to get your brain in the math mood.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice: If a concept is still a bit fuzzy even after you have completed your homework, find some additional practice questions online. It is important to not only complete questions until you get the right answer, but until you understand HOW you got the right answer.

7. Don’t Stress: If you’re struggling with a question or concept, set it aside, take a break, and return to it later. If you are still having difficulties, call up a classmate or ask a family member for help. Look online. If no one can help you out, make a note of the problem and wait to ask your teacher the next day. Struggling with a problem that you can’t answer will only increase frustration and cause unnecessary stress.

8. Slow Down: Completing work in class or finishing a test is not a race. Take time to understand, complete, and double check your work. Taking your time also lessens your chances of making silly mistakes or scribbling answers that are not legible.

9. Analyze Your Errors: When homework and tests are returned to you, take the time to go over wrong answers. Figure out where you went wrong and do a few practice questions to get the correct method locked in your brain. Ask the teacher if you need help figuring out your missteps.

10. Get some exercise before homework. Studies show that light exercise increases blood flow and improves mental clarity and ability to concentrate, which is exactly the state you want your brain in before doing homework. So, go for a walk before hitting the books and maximize  both your headspace and your homework efforts.


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