A Student's Guide for Success with Mathematics v1.1


Q: My initial course grades are poor. I feel this course is too fast, and I find it hard to keep up.
A: If possible, you may want to switch to the next lower course. You may find that the current class is much easier, if you first take a prerequisite course. For example, if you are currently in MTH103, try switching to MTH1825. Also, if one or more of your courses are extremely difficult for you, don't try to take a lot of credits that semester. Doing so could be a big mistake.

Q: If I have to switch to a lower course, does that mean I'm stupid?
A: Absolutely not! If you recognize that you are in the wrong course, switching to a lower course could be the smartest move you'll ever make. You'll be getting the background you need, so that when you do take the original course you'll do well. It beats the alternative, which is to not pass the current course, have your confidence crushed, get a bad grade, and end up repeating the course. Notice that in either situation, you would be taking/retaking the original course in the next semester; however, one case has negative consequences, and the other does not. Taking a lower course only means that you are not, perhaps, as far along as someone else, and nothing more. Remember that no matter which math course you are in, every world-famous mathematics professor was learning the material you are learning at some point in their lives. You, too, can be successful.

Q: I had the prerequisite course and did well, but I'm not getting it.
A: Increase the amount of time studying and doing problems. You may need some additional help. Make sure you make use of the instructor's office hours and the Mathematics Learning Center.

Q: I understood this stuff in class, but I can't do my homework.
A: You may want to look at your note-taking skills. What is said in class may make perfect sense at the time, but no one has perfect memory. When you copy the problem and its solution down, make sure you write down why certain steps are true, so that you can make sense of your notes later.

Q: I do take good notes and understand in class, but I can't seem to start the homework.
A: Try to make use of the Mathematics Learning Center and/or office hours, to have someone help you get started. Once you can struggle on your own, you can then improve with additional individual practice.

Q: I thought I understood this stuff, but I did poorly on the exam, etc.
A: Maybe you do understand it, but you lack the skill. Success in mathematics comes from understanding and skill. Understanding comes from attending lecture, asking questions, and studying the material. Skill comes after understanding, and only when you spend a significant amount of your own time working through practice problems. An instructor can give you understanding, but only you can give yourself the skill. Success on exams comes from having excellent skill.

Q: I actually do spend many hours working problems, but I still do poorly on exams.
A: The real test is whether you can successfully work problems start to finish without looking at the book, looking at your notes, or asking someone for help. If you can not work problems without doing this, then you need to do a lot more problems of that type, until you can do them automatically without needing help. Everyone needs to spend a different amount of time to get to the "automatic stage".

Q: I can do problems automatically, but get tripped up on tests.
A: Make sure when you work problems on your own to periodically mix them up so that you are not always doing just the problems from one particular section. You need to be able to do random problems, since an exam won't tell you "what section it came from". Actually, an effective way to practice for an exam is to pick random problems and do them without book, notes, or helper to help you, and see if you can do them. Problems that you need help with, or problems you need to "look up" are problems you need to do a lot more of . . . to make them automatic.

Q: You don't understand. I am doing all these things. My only problem seems to be with taking tests.
A: You may have test anxiety. There are some things that you can do to help remedy this. Try these things:

Q: I don't know whether I have test anxiety, but I seem to do poorly no matter what strategy I take!
A: You may have some other issues at work here. Outside problems such as stress, family crises, relationships, anxiety, depression, etc. can affect your success in ways you might not realize. If you feel that any of these may be a factor, it is highly advisable to talk with someone in Counseling Services. Alternately, you may have some "special needs" that you are unaware of. For example, ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, etc. If you are unsure of this possibility, there are testing facilities at the Resource Center.

If there any comments/suggestions for this page, please email systeven@msu.edu.

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