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Myth Busting: So you think you can’t study for math

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

(and how you actually can!)

Back to School

You can’t study for math,” is an all too common refrain we hear from students. You have a general idea of how to do the problems, so what’s the point?, you think to yourself. We’re here to bust that myth and help you boost your math grades this year.

When struggling in math (or any other subject), your plan of attack is to 1) Assess the problem – why are you struggling? What types of problems are you getting wrong and why? And then 2) Figure out how to address those issues – whether it is researching the topic online for help, asking your teachers, parents, and friends, or finding a tutor, once you have found where you require help, go after it and get the support you need!

If step 1 feels daunting, use this guide below to get started.

Okay, quiz time (the good kind of quiz). Look at the following statements and check the ones that best describe how you feel about your math class:

☐ I cannot remember the terms and formulas!

My teacher explained what to do, but I just don’t understand!

Wait, how do I start this problem?

I cannot remember what to do first, second, third, last, any of it!

I keep getting stuck!

I totally know what to do, I just cannot get the right answer!

Wait a second, this problem looks different than what I’ve seen, now what do I do?

I can get the right answer (sometimes…), I just don’t know how I’m getting there…

I always make careless mistakes!

I totally understand it in class and on homework, but I always miss questions on the test.

I don’t really need to practice because I understand what to do.

I know I’m doing this right! Why isn’t it correct?

Alright, let’s discuss.

If you checked statements in the first group (in bold), you’re probably still trying to conceptually understand the material. If this is the case, you should focus your studying on the following:

  • Asking questions and clarifying concerns - Ask your teacher, math whiz friend or one of our expert tutors in a personalized session. Don’t be shy about really digging into what it is you aren’t getting. Have them show you examples! Ask them to rephrase their explanation in multiple ways until one resonates. Ask now and you’ll be glad you did later!

  • Review terms - Who knew there was so much vocabulary in high school math?! Know the terms like the back of your hand so that you don’t get tripped up by seeing an unfamiliar word in the instructions. Flashcards can help with this, as can post-it notes strategically placed on your mirror or bedroom door!

  • Practice by following an example. Use an example from your book, teacher or tutor. Re-write the example step-by-step, then try doing the exact same thing with a different problem. Repeat until you feel confident enough to work without the example by your side.

Did you see yourself in the second (italics) group of statements? Yes? Then, you are working through the application phase of understanding material. It’s time to put what you know to work to ensure you can repeat it again and again.

  • Practice step-by-step. Work through several practice problems of the same sort to ensure that you can repeatedly apply concepts without missing steps or making mistakes. Check your work every so often to identify any errors. If there are errors, repeat the practice. This may make for a little slower progress through a problem set, but remember: practice makes permanent, so you want high quality practice that eliminates your common mistakes rather than reinforces them!

  • Practice with different types of problems. Don’t focus all of your efforts on one problem type and ignore others. It’s easy to get excited when you make progress and can complete one type of problem, but don’t forget, your teacher may use some slight variation on a test/quiz to ensure that you really do have full understanding of the material. Remember that odd problem she did on the board or the word problem that you skipped on the homework? Do those!

  • Work on what you can, ask clarifying questions to fill the holes. If you’re planning on coming to tutoring, try your best to work your way through as much of the material as you can, so that you can ask any lingering questions and have your tutor check over what you’ve done. At Future Focused, your tutor may give you a little test or quiz to see that you can complete several problem types on your own from start to finish. If you’re working on your own, use the end-of-section or end-of-chapter review, do a few problems as if you were in a test setting, without looking at notes or back in the book.

Finding that you’re seeing a lot of statements in the third (underlined) category that apply to you? That means you’re probably still working through mastering all of the content. While the final rung of the metaphorical learning-ladder, this stage can last a long time and can also be incredibly frustrating. You get it! You think? Advancing to mastery is all about being able to take concepts and consistently apply them correctly to problems of various types over and over again without error.

  • Remember, practice makes permanent! At this stage, it’s easy to go through the motions of doing your homework or practicing for a test without really stopping to think about what you’re doing. Work carefully on homework, even when you are eager to be done. Why? Because the way you do your homework is going to affect the way you perform on a test. It’s that simple. Sloppy practice=sloppy test results (That’s some useful math right there!)

  • Slow down! So many errors are made because of rushing. Slow down when you take your tests.

  • Don’t take what you know for granted. You totally get the concepts, we know. You can even do practice problems with relative ease…awesome! Still, be sure to double check your work even (and especially when!) you don’t feel you need to check your work. This is when you may be prone to careless errors. Stay on your guard and you’ll get the points that you have earned with all your hard work.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways you can study for Math! It all depends on where you are in the learning process. No matter which stage you are in, a little help can’t hurt. At Future Focused, our one-on-one tutoring sessions are all about identifying where you’re at in understanding and helping you to reach your goals consistently. Visit Future Focused or give us a call for more information.

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