Ten Ways to Survive the Math Blues

By Murray Bourne, 14 Jun 2005

  1. EarthFigure out the Big Picture: Find out why you are doing this math. How does it fit with your other courses (science, geography, English, engineering)? You could do some Internet searches on the math you are studying and include "application". Get a sense of where you are going and why you are doing this. Mathematics is compulsory in most of the world - there has to be a reason...
  2. Get on top of it before it gets on top of you. Yep, mathematics is one of those things that builds on prior knowledge. Yet many students learn things only for an examination and then promptly forget it, setting themselves up for later difficulties. Learn for the future, not for tomorrow's test.
  3. Read Ahead. It is strongly advised that you read over next week's math right now. You won't understand it all, but you will have a better sense of what is coming up and how it fits with what you are doing this week. Then, when your class goes through it later, your doubts and uncertainties will reduce - and you will understand and remember it better.
  4. booksUse more than one resource. It often happens that you can't follow the teacher's explanation and your textbook is very confusing. Borrow 2 or 3 textbooks similar to your own from your library and read what they have to say about the topic. Often they will have a diagram, a picture or an explanation that gives you the "Ahhh - I get it!" that you desire.
  5. Don't join the Blame Game. Teaching mathematics is tough. Teachers really have to work hard to make math fun, interesting and engaging. It is easy to blame a teacher for a bad grade, but who is really responsible for your future?
  6. Practice makes Perfect. You don't expect to be able to play guitar or drive a car without practice. Well, learning mathematics (unfortunately) involves some slogging away and doing exercises. Don't get bogged down, though - use your other resources to help you through the homework.
  7. clockTime Management. Start homework assignments as soon as you get them. There may be some things on there that you haven't done in class yet (because maybe it is not due for a few weeks). That's good - it helps to focus your thoughts so that when you are doing that section in class, you know that it is important and you'll know what you don't know. Nobody plans to fail - but many fail to plan...
  8. Don't fall into the trap of copying from a friend to survive. They probably have the wrong answer anyway. Besides, a lot of students resent being asked for their assignments for copying - they are too afraid of a ruined relationship to say no. Hey, you can do it - have the confidence in your own ability.
  9. Never, never give up. Math uses a different part of the brain than most other things in school. It can be stressful when you can't figure out something. Work on something else for a while and come back to it later.
  10. smileyKeep a sense of humour! Don't lose the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mistakes. Mistakes are not the end of the world - they are the beginning of real learning!

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