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Studying Math More Effectively

Remember our goal is not "to get a good grade" on the test, but master the mathematical concepts for the long term (which almost always results in good grades and so much more). Memorization is the exact opposite of this approach, so we will be presenting tips to help you avoid rote memorization of lots of material.

AND, we must be willing to work hard when we're working.  If we are, we can be better math students.

Ways to organize information/ideas

Get the "big picture" - be able to anticipate where ideas are related or reused.  Good problem-solving happens when we are able to relate different aspects of an idea together, so don't think of new information without connecting it to stuff you already know.

Find the 3-5 big ideas of the content - Use the Table of Contents in textbooks, the Learning Objectives in the syllabus, and any homework/projects laid out in the syllabus/course webpage/BJUOnline

For each big idea, define key elements/components - determine any key vocabulary of the course (and look up their definitions)

Create the key pieces of your concept map (a nonlinear outline of sorts) - these are the bones upon which you will hang all new ideas for this course/discipline (here's a not entirely complete/thorough map as an example:  Calculus Map)

Goal: #1  have some idea of what the course is trying to accomplish
#2  have an overall content structure to fit new information into

This will develop the ability to make sense of what is said and done in class the first time.  It will also help develop a sense of where the course is going, so that it is easier to understand why we are doing what we do along the way.

WHEN to do this:  no later than the second day of class (or as soon as possible).

Ensuring your study is quality study

Rule #1:  while reading/studying/working problems/answering questions, 

  • force yourself to think deeply/carefully whenever you are working
  • force yourself to try and recall before looking things up
  • force yourself to think in "normal" English while you write in jargon/technical language
  • force yourself to describe the process you are using in words, then apply it in English (write this out in your study notes/map as you figure it out) - this is the explanation for your future self (when you've forgotten something)

Not spending more time learning something than you have to

  • Plan ahead
    • make a schedule for when you are going to study each subject, so there's never a question of what you are going to do next and so no hours are "lost"
    • hold your self accountable to your schedule - document when you actually studied, what you accomplished during that time, and rate the quality of that study time (1 = poor (a D grade), 4 = excellent/intense (an A grade))
    • make some friends in the class and study together, there's accountability to actually do it, and it's more fun than doing it alone ... WARNING:  you still need to stay on task, remember, learning more in less time is the goal
  • Be purposeful with study time and breaks
    • Set a time limit for your study - at least 25 min, preferably closer to 45-60 min
      How long can you keep up high focus?  Can you increase this time? (so you need fewer breaks and get more done in less time ...)
    • Set ambitious goals to accomplish in that time, push yourself - we can only get more efficient if we push current limits
      Should your goals be always (or almost always) accomplishable?  ... not if you want to improve
    • Take short breaks (5-15 min depending on how long you worked)
      DON'T check your email/texts/facebook/etc. (creates residual distractions and reduces focus when you do go back to work)
      DO take a walk, get a drink/snack, move your laundry etc. (movement reenergizes you without distracting)