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How to Succeed in Your Math Course

You've signed up for your courses, bought your books, have a new blank notebook, and are all ready to go! Are you set up for success? We can't say yet. There are several other things to consider.


Enough time to study:

If you often find yourself choosing between doing your homework and getting enough sleep, you have not been realistic about your time expectations. In this case, you will not succeed - which means you won't learn the material as well as you are capable of and you won't make as high a grade as you could. You may pass. Only you can decide whether that is really a success.

In general, in college mathematics classes, you should plan to spend between 2 and 3 hours outside of class doing homework and studying for every hour in class. For a 3-hour course in a fall or spring semester, that means 6 to 9 hours per week. That should be spread out over at least three different days during the week, and done when you are not sleepy or otherwise distracted. If you need to do a substantial amount of review, because you are not very well prepared for the course, you need extra time past the 6 - 9 hours per week.

If the course is in a shorter semester, you'll need to spend more time per week. A 3-hour course meets for 48 hours during the semester. So, spending between two and three hours outside of class for every hour in class means that you should spend between 100 and 150 hours on work outside of class, spread fairly evenly over the semester. So, for a six week course in the summer, that's between 16 and 25 hours per week, spread over at least five different days during the week.

Enough time to attend class:

If you miss a class, it will almost certainly take you at least twice as much time as you would have spent in the class to learn the material covered in the class on your own (in addition to the usual study time you need to do homework). That may not seem reasonable to you, but remember that the teacher is trained to give concise explanations and pick out just the right problems to clarify the material. If you're having to do that on your own, you probably won't be as quick about it as the teacher. When you do miss a class, if you don't learn the material covered before the next class, you'll be behind and then you won't learn the material in the next class very well. So it's very important to talk with your teacher and get caught up as soon as possible when you get behind.

It's a very good idea to make arrangements with a classmate to exchange class notes if one of you must miss class. Reading through a good set of notes will help you focus your studying and may save you from having to spend quite as much time figuring out the material on your own.

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Choosing a reasonable course, based on your background:

It seems unlikely to me that a student who had Spanish in high school 10 years ago would just automatically sign up for Spanish II and be sure everything would be OK. To sign up for College Algebra when you had two years of high school algebra ten years ago, and haven't used algebra since, is just as unrealistic. In order to be successful, you must match your course to your background. The Math Department has extensive advising information available to help you.

If you need a stronger background from high school mathematics in order to take the college-credit classes you need, we have a variety of developmental math courses at ACC to help you. Any of the mathematics teachers would be happy to discuss this with you if you have questions. If you have had the courses before, but just need a short review, see our Prerequisite Review Sheets for guidance. Do your review before the course starts. Don't just enroll for a course and assume "they'll review the material I need." That idea does not promote success!

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Flexible in studying:

While no generalization is 100% correct, it seems to me that many of my students who make C's and D's are set in their ways about doing homework and studying. Maybe they always look at the solution manual immediately after they work the problem or maybe they never look at the solution manual. On the other hand, most students who make A's and B's seem to be willing to use various study styles. Sometimes (when they're finding the material difficult) they read an example, work a homework problem and then look at the solution manual. Then they do another problem in the same way. But, after a few problems, then they quit looking at examples and they do two or three (or more) before looking up the answers.

These more flexible students are likely to notice that the experience of taking a test is different from doing homework for a number of reasons and they find ways to practice their test-taking skills on similar problems to those that might be on the test and under conditions similar to that of a test.

There's a lot of discussion among teachers these days about how students have many different learning styles. Some learn better visually, others by hearing, others by doing something. There is no "best" way. Have you thought about what types of learning activities work best for you? Try out some different things and see what seems to work best. For instance, you might get some 3x5 cards and write important ideas from your course on them. Then try two different things: put some of them somewhere where you'll look at them several times a day and take others and read them out loud to yourself at least once a day. After a week or so, which set of ideas do you feel the most familiar with? Does this help you figure out a good study strategy?

If you frequently have test anxiety or do not perform as well on tests as you do on homework, that's a clear indication that you need to pay more attention to your learning style and find some different ways to work on the material than you have used in the past. Ask your teacher if you need some help in thinking of some different ways to try.

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This page was prepared by Mary Parker mparker@austincc.edu , Last updated on December 26, 1997.