Lower Columbia College | Math Success Tips

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Math Success Tips

Is studying mathematics different than studying English and history? You bet! It could be the reason some students are not as successful in mathematics as they are in other subjects.

One of the keys to success is regular practice, just like learning to play the piano or basketball. Here are some tips for helping you succeed.


Attend class regularly and take notes.

Ask Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions in class. There are always other students who have the same questions but are too shy too ask.

Read Your Text

Many students depend solely on the instructor's lecture and explanations in class to do their assignments, without reading the explanation or studying the examples in their text. If you get stuck, one of the best resources you have is your text! Many exercises are keyed to specific examples or objectives that will explain the procedures for working them. Math texts should be read slowly and carefully with pencil and paper at hand. Try to identify the main ideas that are in each lesson. Often they are clearly highlighted or boxed in the text.


  • Review your class notes and try reworking the problems the instructor did in class. Many students say "I understand it perfectly when you do it, but I get stuck when I try to work the problem myself." Reworking the problems the instructor did in class will help reinforce what you have learned.
  • Try to do your math homework as soon after class as possible, and reserve some time later in the day to attack the problems that you get stuck on the first time around.
  • Check your work with the answers in the back of the book. If you get a problem wrong, check to see if there is an example in the book similar to the problem you are working on. Study the example and then try to do the example problem with your book closed. Then give the homework problem another try. If the answer is not correct, check your computations (arithmetic and algebra). If you still have difficulty solving the problem, mark that problem so that you can get help with it.
  • Keep your homework in a notebook. The more organized it is, the more it will serve you as a guide for seeking help in resolving difficulties and studying for tests.

Getting Help

  • Visit your instructor during office hours.
  • Take advantage of Tutoring Services.
  • Form a study group with your classmates.

Preparing for a Math Test

Many students work hard preparing for a test and yet they don't do as well as they expected. Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Work regularly on your math homework. If you have difficulties get them cleared up right away.
  • A couple of days before the test, start to work through the sections to be covered on the test. Work sample problems. make notes on what each section is about. Get help with material you don't understand.
  • Make a summary of the different kinds of problems that will be on the test. Describe each problem type, describe the steps in working the problem, do an example of each. Your summary should include key definitions and/or theorems.
  • The last studying you do before the test should be in reviewing your summary. For each problem type it includes, make sure that you know the steps needed for its solution. Also, make sure that you know and understand all key definitions and/or theorems.

Taking a Math Test

Many students feel that they knew the material for a test and yet they did not do as well as they should have.
A few tips: Prepare as well as possible. Start preparing yourself mentally and, as the instructor passes out the test materials, think about your test taking strategies.

The following should be part of your plan:

  • Keep cool.
  • Do a "memory dump". While your head is still clear and before looking at the test, write yourself some notes. Include those things you think you might forget or "cautions" about typical errors you have made before.
  • Make a reasonable attempt at each problem. If you get it, fine. Go on. If you don't get it, put a check by it and then forget it until you have finished the rest of the problems.
  • When you have tried all of the problems on the test, go back and do the best you can on the checked problems.
  • If you can do only part of a problem, do it. Partial credit is better than no credit.
  • Above all, remain cool. Don't think about how you are doing or what happens if you don't do well. (You can do that after the test.) Don't worry if you find something you don't know.