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Math 99 Study Suggestions:
Many beginning college students have not developed good study habits and
find the transition to college work to be quite difficult. You may find
some aspects of this course to be frustrating to you; this is natural, but
you should try not to let that block you from succeeding at the course.
Try to remember that part of what you are learning is how to learn
effectively; find out what works for you and what doesn't.
Here are some hints that you should consider:
- Come to my office hours. If you are having trouble doing the
homework problems or understanding the material from class, please come see
me during my office hours or ask
questions in class (everyone will be thankful that you did).
- Make sure you continue to work on a problem until you get it
right and understand why it's right. It does not do you much good
to work through many problems but get them all wrong. It is better to
get one right in the end than to do ten incorrectly.
- If you still can't get it right, come see me. Many students
attempt, but do not complete, the harder problems. These are the most
important ones to work through, and are more likely to be like the ones you
will have on quizzes and exams. Be sure you know how to do all the
homework problems. Looking them over and saying to yourself "I know how
to do that one" is not the same as doing it; there may be
complications you don't recognize until you actually write it out.
- Don't get behind in the homework. You have many demands on your
time, and you will not be able to catch up once you start to fall behind.It
is important to do the homework (or at least attempt it) before the next
class. Often the material in the following class will depend on your
having worked on the homework.
- Don't put off doing the problem sets until the last minute.
Some of the problems may require considerable thinking, and you will need
to come back to them several times over several days. This is to be
expected, and does not mean you are not understanding the material. It
is simply part of the process of doing hard problems. Do not expect to be
able to do all the problems in one hour, or even in one sitting. I will
be giving out the problem sets early specifically so that you have the
chance to ask questions about them in class. If you don't look at them
until the night before they are due, you will miss out on this opportunity.
- Don't turn in work that you know is wrong but pretend that you think
it is right. It is far better not to finish a problem than to continue
on and produce a wrong answer, or make some other error to compensate so as
to get a reasonable-looking answer; that just makes you look like you
really don't know what you are doing. No answer at all is better
than an answer you know to be wrong. You should say something like: "I
know that something has gone wrong at this point, but I can't figure out
what" and should say why you think something is not right, and what you
would have done if you could have continued on. There is no shame in
admitting you don't know how to do something. If it appears that you don't
know what you're doing, I will take off credit for it, even if you end up
with the "right" answer.
- Don't turn in several different answers to the same problem, hoping
one will be right. Some students use this "shotgun" approach, hoping
that at least one answer will be correct and that I'll ignore the others.
I won't. If you write four answers and only one is right, that's probably
worth only 25% of the points, because 75% of what you said was wrong.
- Write out all the steps. Since you are just learning to write
proofs, it is important not to leave out any of the steps. You may be
tempted to take short cuts or assume the reader can fill in the missing
steps, but you should not do this at this point in your mathematical
development. Once you have more experience writing proofs you can reduce
- Don't do your homework in front of the TV or with the radio or
stereo going. These are distractions and will prevent you from
concentrating on the material you are studying. Some students say: "But I
work better with music going"; they are deluding themselves. What they
actually mean is "I enjoy it more when there's music going". That may be
true, but studies indicate that is takes students longer, and the results
are worse, if there are distractions like music and television when they
are working on their homework. If you must listen to music while
studying or doing homework, at least listen to classical music; studies
show that this makes you smarter.
- Don't work with others on problem sets. Problem sets are to be
done independently. If I suspect cheating occurred on a problem set, I do
not hesitate to take the issue to the Dean. Please see the college
statement on academic honesty for more information about what constitutes
cheating and the process followed when it occurs. See my statement on collaboration, and the cover sheet of the
problem sets themselves for more details.
- Review your notes between classes. This is a critical part of
the learning process, and should not be overlooked. This will help you to
organize the material for yourself, and to locate areas where you may have
questions. It is especially important if you spend most of your class time
taking down notes and find it difficult to think about the material and
write at the same time.
- Form note-sharing groups. If you are having trouble taking
notes and listening at the same time in class, you might consider forming a
note-sharing group with two or three other students in the class. For
example, if there were three of you in the group, each would take notes
one class each week while the other two could pay full attention to the
lecture. After the class, the note-taker would photocopy his or her notes
and give copies to the other members of the group.
- Come to class prepared. Begin the homework and problem sets
before the next class, if you can, and be prepared with questions if not.
Look over your notes briefly in the few minutes before class starts, so
that you remember where we left off and what we were trying to accomplish.
I will not go over homework problems that people don't have questions
about, so if you want to know how to do on the hard ones, you need to ask
- Organize the course material as you study. When you go to
review for exams or quizzes, you should think about other ways that the
material could be organized. This will help you recognized the
interconnections of the material. One good practice is to condense five or
ten pages of notes into one page by selecting the most important items.
This act of choosing helps you to organize the material in your head; you
determine what is important and what is not. Without this ability, you
will have way too much to study and will get hopelessly lost. Once you
have gone through all your notes and condensed them, you can go back over
the condensed ones and do it again. See if you can condense your notes
down to one or two pages by the end of the term.
- Don't forget to go over the problem sets when you study. The
homework and problems sets are not just for practice of things we did in
class; they also should lead you to develop important concepts or
procedures that I will expect you to know. A good practice, particularly
when you are studying for an exam, is to look back at each problem from the
problem sets assignments (particularly the ones not from the book) and try
to give a one or two sentence statement that summarizes what that problem
is about. If it's a procedure for doing something, make sure that it has
been added to your notes.
When determining how much time you should spend on your course work,
consider the following analogy: if you were working a full-time job, you
would be putting in 40 hours a week (at least). Think of your class work
here as your job. Since you are probably taking three courses, that means
you should spend about 13 hours a week on each course. Of that, 3 will be
in class, so you should expect to put in about 10 hours of work outside of
class each week. I do not expect the weekly problem sets to take you more
than about 6 hours, so the remainder should be spent reviewing your notes,
coming to office hours with questions, and trying to internalize the
material from class. On the course evaluation at the end of the term you
will be asked to estimate how much time you spent per week on the course.
Some students end up saying 2 to 4 hours, which is not enough; however, if
you find you are spending more than 12 hours a week, then something is
probably wrong, and you should come see me.
Finally, I want to remind you that I do want you to succeed at this course
(even when I am writing lots of corrections on your papers), and I will do
whatever I can to make that happen for you. Your role in that is to do
whatever you can to make that happen, and to come to me for help
when it's not working. It is far better to admit that there is a problem
than to brazen it out and hope it gets better; it usually doesn't on its
Good luck with the term!
Up: Math 99 Home Page
Created: Mar 25 1999 ---
Last modified: May 4, 1999 3:57:40 PM