General Errors
In fact, that was the original title of this section, but I
did not want to leave people with the feeling that I’m trying to imply that
math is easy and that everyone should just “get it”! For many people math is a very difficult
subject and they will struggle with it.
So please do not leave with the impression that I’m trying to imply that
math is easy for everyone. The intent of
this section is to address certain attitudes and preconceptions many students
have that can make a math class very difficult to successfully complete.
Putting off math requirements
I don’t know how many students have come up to me and said
something along the lines of :
“I’ve been putting this off for a
while now because math is so hard for
me and now I’ve got to have it in
order to graduate this semester.”
This has got to be one of the strangest attitudes that I’ve
ever run across. If math is hard for
you, putting off your math requirements is one of the worst things that you can
do! You should take your math
requirements as soon as you can. There
are several reasons for this.
The first reason can be stated in the following way : MATH
IS CUMULATIVE. In other words, most math
classes build on knowledge you’ve gotten in previous math classes, including
your high school math classes. So, the
only real effect of putting off your math requirement is that you forget the
knowledge that you once had. It will be
assumed that you’ve still got this knowledge when you finally do take your math
requirement!
If you put off your math requirement you will be faced with
the unpleasant situation of having to learn new material AND relearn all the
forgotten material at the same time. In
most cases, this means that you will struggle in the class far more than if you
had just taken it right away!
The second reason has nothing to do with knowledge (or the
loss of knowledge), but instead has everything to do with reality. If math is hard for you and you struggle to
pass a math course, then you really should take the course at a time that
allows for the unfortunate possibility that you don’t pass. In other words, to put it bluntly, if you
wait until your last semester to take your required math course and fail you
won’t be graduating! Take it right away
so if you do unfortunately fail the course you can retake it the next semester.
This leads to the third reason. Too many students wait until the last
semester to take their math class in the hopes that their instructor will take
pity on them and not fail them because they’re graduating. To be honest the only thing that I, and many
other instructors, feel in these cases is irritation at being put into the
position at having to be the bad guy and failing a graduating senior. Not a situation where you can expect much in
the way of sympathy!
Doing the bare minimum
I see far too many students trying to do the bare minimum
required to pass the class, or at least what they feel is the bare minimum
required. The problem with this is they
often underestimate the amount of work required early in the class, get behind,
and then spend the rest of the semester playing catch up and having to do far
more than just the bare minimum.
You should always try to get the best grade possible! You might be surprised and do better than you
expected. At the very least you will
lessen the chances of underestimating the amount of work required and getting
behind.
Remember that math is NOT a spectator sport! You must be actively involved in the learning
process if you want to do well in the class.
A good/bad first exam score doesn’t translate into a
course grade
Another heading here could be : “Don’t get cocky and don’t
despair”. If you get a good score on
the first exam do not decide that means that you don’t need to work hard for
the rest of the semester. All the good
score means is that you’re doing the proper amount of for studying for the
class! Almost every semester I have a
student get an A on the first class and end up with a C (or less) for the class
because he/she got cocky and decided to not study as much and promptly started
getting behind and doing poorly on exams.
Likewise, if you get a bad score on the first exam do not
despair! All the bad score means is that
you need to do a little more work for the next exam. Work more problems, join a study group, or
get a tutor to help you. Just as I have
someone go downhill almost every semester I also have at least one student who
fails the first exam and yet passes the class, often with a B and occasionally
an A!
Your score on the first exam simply doesn’t translate into a
course grade. There is a whole semester
in front of you and lots of opportunities to improve your grade so don’t
despair if you didn’t do as well as you wanted to on the first exam.
Expecting to instantly understand a
concept/topic/section
Assuming that if it’s “easy” in class it will be
“easy” on the exam
Don’t know how to study mathematics
The first two are really problems that fall under the last
topic but I run across them often enough that I thought I’d go ahead and put
them down as well. The reality is that
most people simply don’t know how to study mathematics. This is not because
people are not capable of studying math, but because they’ve never really
learned how to study math.
Mathematics is not like most subjects and accordingly you
must also study math differently. This is an unfortunate reality and many
students try to study for a math class in the same way that they would study
for a history class, for example. This
will inevitably lead to problems. In a
history class you can, in many cases, simply attend class memorize a few names
and/or dates and pass the class. In a
math class things are different. Simply
memorizing will not always get you through the class, you also need to
understand HOW to use the formula that you’ve memorized.
This is such an important topic and there is so much to be
said I’ve devoted a whole document to just this topic. My How
To Study Mathematics can be accessed at,
http://tutorial.math.lamar.edu/Extras/StudyMath/HowToStudyMath.aspx