Hopefully, many of you are loving your math courses this semester and thriving in them. For the great majority, math can be a major struggle that you can easily lose perspective if you don’t stay on top of assignments and exam preparation. Below are some tips for coping with the math funk – the period of time where you may be growing discouraged by the increasing difficulty that your math homework is presenting, when you are beating your head against the wall memorizing theorems and tying it to the larger purpose of getting a good grade, all the while, trying not to drown in the complex terminology and detailed strategies of working the problems.
• Remember and reinforce the “whys” behind the reasoning for your math courses: Are you needing these courses to graduate, for your major? If you need them for your major, the bigger picture may transform from I need to get a good grade in this course to I need to be able to apply these skills and generalize them to scenarios in my work environment sometime down the road. If you merely need them as a general education requirement or pre-requisite, remind yourself that you need to master this course in order to excel to a more interesting class for which you have pre-requisites.
• Do not fall into the math quicksand – I call this the period of time that you forget much of the information you have learned either for a test or in preparation for future math lessons, the result being that when you approach the next lesson, the cumulative learning that took place beforehand is all but lost. Hence, you may find yourself quickly trying to re-memorize the previous theories all over again in an effort to rapidly catch up to the current one or the fast approaching cumulative exam.
• Work ahead on your assignments – It is good practice to finish your math assignments ahead of time (albeit thoroughly) so that you can get started on that next reading assignment to in turn prepare you for the next lesson. I used to find that it was easier to digest the material in the math lectures or in the case of online, the next lesson presented, if I was prepared ahead of time. Sometimes, just a few key words from the upcoming chapter will reinforce your learning of the concepts ahead. The more ways you can find to reinforce your knowledge in your mind, the cumulative effect can only have positive results on exam performance as well as your ability retain future material.
• Avoid blaming external factors for math not being fun – Let’s face it; math may not be the most “entertaining” and engaging material for some folks. However, rather than blame your lack of interest on the dryness of the material, find unique ways to apply the concepts to your life. Word problems are a great example; the ones that involve calculating percentages, totals and sale prices can go a long way in planning how to budget your next trip to the grocery store! When I think of memorizing something as simple as multiplication tables, it may enhance my memory of future numbers like phone numbers or my driver’s license number, if I left it at home – yikes!
• Plan accordingly and practice effective time management – Remember to access your calendar or planner daily, weekly and monthly to plan out your assignments and even carve out some time to review notes and prepare for the next assignment or lesson. Even insert time for diversions like studying a different subject or going for a walk when you start to feel yourself burning out.
• Find the humor in math – Believe it or not, math can be funny sometimes. When you are practicing that problem for what seems like an eternity; then, you get feedback or discover how the correct answer came to be. Substitute the feeling of frustration with one of “that textbook showed me” – and learn to laugh at your mistakes. Any epiphanies that you discover along the way can serve as lighthearted moments – where the “how did they get that answer? – can be humorous in and of itself before your resume the “serious” task of trying to re-work the problem to get to the correct answer.
All in all, don’t give up. When you find yourself losing momentum, take a break or divert your mind to another subject area. One suggestion for combatting frustration is to keep a journal closeby and jot down the following: what kind of problem it was, why you got it wrong, how did you feel at the time and what strategy are you taking to empower yourself so you bounce back. Then, evaluate how this strategy helped. This might even involve taking a break first and returning to the problem, noting how the brief interlude might have changed your perspective.
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