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Homework 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.

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).

  • If you have trouble with a homework problem, do more problems like it from the book. There usually are others nearby that are similar. If not, there are lots of calculus books in the library and in the lounge in the Math Department; these will have problems similar to the ones we do, so you can use these as additional practice. Our calculus book is organized in a traditional way, so you should be able to locate the proper section in just about any calculus text by looking through the table of contents for a similar section title.

  • 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 similar to 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 the homework 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 homework problems in one hour, or even in one sitting.

  • 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 also 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. On the other hand, if it appears that you think what you have done is right, even though it isn't, 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.

  • 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 it 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.

  • Redo your incorrect work until you get it right. When you get an assignment back with correction on it, go over the corrections and understand the mistake. I don't always write out all the details, so be sure to go back and redo the problem carefully. Then put it aside for a few hours and come back and do it again (without looking at your previous work at first). Once you have that problem worked out, do some other ones that are like it from the book.

  • Work with other students on homework. This is one of the best ways to learn the material. If you don't understand it, another student frequently can help out; if you do know how to do a problem, explaining it to someone else frequently helps to clarify and solidify the process for you. When you work with other students, however, you must note that fact on your write-up; a statement of the form "John Doe helped me to work through this problem" is sufficient.

  • Don't work with others on the take-home quizzes or problem sets. Quizzes, exams and problem sets are to be done independently, including the take-home portions of quizzes. If I suspect cheating occurred, 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 also my statement on collaboration.

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 own.

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Created: 26 Aug 2000
Last modified: Dec 31, 2000 5:31:49 PM
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