Study Math and Improve Math Skills: 12 Tips for Learning Math
We don’t study math like other subjects
Learning math is NOT like learning history or science or foreign languages. It isn’t about learning information and looking for main ideas. You might need to memorize some basic facts and a few formulas but you don’t need to memorize a lot of facts. In fact, many students don’t study for math tests because they don’t know how to study math.
Math is about solving problems. Instead of being based on memorizing a lot of information, it is based on thinking with numbers. You are judged on your ability to solve problems you have not seen before.
How do we Study Math?
Think about walking, riding a bike, swimming, or dancing. You can’t learn these skills from a textbook. A teacher might demonstrate the skills, but if you don’t practice the skills yourself, you won’t learn.
We learn skills with practice. The more we practice, the more our skills will improve. Students who spend time solving math problems will develop better skills.
Twelve Tips for Learning Math
These tips can help you understand math better, remember it longer, and improve your grades.
1. Take Good Notes in class.
When the teacher introduces a new type of problem, TAKE GOOD NOTES. You think you’ll remember how the teacher solved the problem but, when you get home and try to do your homework, you probably won’t remember. Copy the problems your teacher does on the board. Mark steps one, two, three, etc. Take notes on the teacher’s explanation. Then you’ll be prepared to do your homework.
2. Study with a Buddy.
Do your homework, at least the first several problems with a classmate. When one person gets stuck, the other might remember what to do. Start out by working separately and, if you both get the same answer, chances are good you are both right. If you get different answers, one of you made a mistake. Go back and look at your notes. Try to find what you did wrong. If not, take turns explaining what you did and why. This should help solve the problem.
3. Do your Homework. Math is a class based mainly on Practice.
The more you practice these problems, the better you get. If you miss more than two or three problems on your homework, it would be smart to go back later and do the homework again. Your teacher won’t tell you to do this but, if you want to be good at math, you will do it anyway.
4. Understanding Math is important. Ask about the Reasoning behind the procedures.
Many students never understand math. They don’t understand what happens when you carry a number in addition or borrow in subtraction. Students who don’t understand place value are more likely to make mistakes here.
If you understand the reasoning behind fraction problems, you can figure what to do when you forget the rules. Many algebra students simply memorize rules and then wonder why they forget so quickly. Try explaining to a friend exactly why these rules make sense.
5. Don’t Depend on your Calculator.
Yes, you should know how to use your calculator, but don’t depend on it. Start by doing problems on paper. Use the calculator to check your answer. What would you do if your calculator stopped working in the middle of a test?
6. Show Your Work: All of your work.
It is important to show your work. It should be NEAT and COMPLETE.
Showing work on a test is always smart. Many teachers, if they see that you did everything right except the last step or two will give you partial credit.
7. Use your Brain for doing Math Word Problems.
Solving word problems should begin with thinking. Some students look for the numbers and either add, subtract, multiply or divide without thinking.
In difficult word problems it helps to begin by listing what you know. Then write what you want to know. Look for the words “What is the ….” or other questions. Is there any other information that your need? Do you need a formula? Do you need to know how many inches in a foot. When there is missing information, it is assumed this is something you should know.
8. Estimate the Answer and avoid careless mistakes.
Before you begin working on a problem, estimate what you think the answer will be close to. This doesn’t mean doing the problem mentally. estimate by rounding off numbers and thinking what answer makes sense. For example, if you have a problem about how many sandwiches someone ate in one month, you might think that with about 30 days in a month, the person might not have eaten any sandwiches or they might have eater 3 or 4 a day. Three sandwiches for 30 days would be 90 sandwiches. If you answer is 3400 sandwiches or .34 sandwiches you probably have the decimal in the wrong place.
9. Check Your Work
Does your answer make sense? Did you remember to include the units? If you have time, you can check your calculations. It’s easy to make careless mistakes. Checking your work can help you avoid mistakes.
10. Use Mental Math. Sometimes you can get to the answer quickly and easily.
In some of the pages that follow, mental math methods will be suggested.
11. Ask questions when you don’t understand.
Ask a classmate, ask your brother or sister, ask your parents or other relatives, or ask your teacher.
Another ways to get help is to use your computer. Khan Academy is a wonderful resource if you need help in math. If you just need help on this weeks topic – perhaps probability, start there. If you have a lot of problems in math, start at the very beginning. You’ll move quickly through what you know well, and you’ll be able to learn the material you never really understood.
Khan Academy: www.KhanAcademy.org
If you have problems with math, try spending 30 minutes or an hour every day on Khan Academy. This will help you more than hiring a tutor. Students are often embarrassed to ask questions again and again in class. On Khan Academy, you can watch the explanation again and again until you understand it.
12. Study for Math Tests. Practice problems of each type.
If you want to remember math for a long time, you could try this methods.
a. Practice the problems regularly. If you take Algebra 1, you need to remember it over the summer. While you are taking Algebra 1, prepare a notebook with two or three practice problems from each section. Put the answers on the back of the page, showing the work.
b. During the year, you could use these practice problems to study for tests, especially with tests that cover everything you learned that year.
c. During the summer, it would be smart to practice your problems weekly. You might divide the notebook into 4 sections. Doing one section a week means you will cover all the material from algebra 1 each month. It doesn’t take that long and you’ll be way ahead of the class when you start Algebra 2.
d. If you want to remember the material for college entrance exams in three years, do the problems as described above for 3 months. Then you can skip a month, then two or three months, etc. Go back and study them again the month before the test.
e. Another excellent way to remember what you learned is to tutor other students. If you have a friend who struggled to make it through Algebra 1, invite your friend to study with you over the summer. Your friend will appreciate the help and you’ll remember the material longer.
You might also check out Mathematical Thinking