As far back as you can remember, your parents have talked to you about the importance of getting good grades and having good study habits so that you will be successful in both high school and in college. Your parents have also drilled into your brain that mathematics is very important to your future. You aren’t sure why that is, but you trust your parents–as you should. You’ve worked really hard at learning your multiplication tables, and you can multiply and divide fractions quicker than anyone else in class. Your middle school teachers have told you that you have the skills to be very successful in any of the high school mathematics courses; but which classes should you take? How can you best prepare yourself for college level mathematics?
Hopefully, you are making these decisions before starting high school, but even if you are already there, committing yourself to these 5 items will best prepare you for college math:
1. Take higher level math all four years. Don’t take General Math. Be sure you have, at the very least, taken Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and Trigonometry (or whatever the 4th year math course is at your school). In some places, students are encouraged to “double up” which means to take Geometry at the same time as either Algebra course, in order to be able to take Calculus in high school. If you know that you are headed to a math-intensive career, then this idea is OK. But you really don’t have to take Calculus in high school, and there are actually several reasons why it isn’t always a good idea. Don’t be in a hurry to take Calculus cours particuliers maths.
2. Be honest with yourself about any math weaknesses. At the very first sign of difficulty understanding what you are studying, get a math tutor. Stay ahead of the game with math. Playing “catch up” is very difficult and creates a lot of stress. Try very hard to never let yourself fall behind. If, due to illness or some other reason, you get behind, hire that tutor as soon as possible.
3. Learn how to take good notes quickly–especially of what is written on the board. You are likely to find that many college math professors are not native English speakers. You may not always be able to understand what they say.
When I was in college, my Differential Equations professor was a wonderful older lady from India who absolutely loved the subject. She would walk into the classroom each day, say “Good Morning,” and that would be the last word we would understand. She would turn to the board and start writing equations. (As the name implies, there are LOTS of equations.) She would say what she was writing, but she would get excited, write faster and faster, and the English immediately disappeared. We students all survived by taking notes of everything she wrote on the board, studying it all later at home, and then going to her office for extra help if needed.
4. Always read your math, do your homework, and study for tests OUT LOUD. Speaking out loud adds hearing to the senses you are using which improves learning; and you will quickly find what you don’t understand when studying because you won’t be able to verbalize it. If you are in a situation where speaking out loud would be inappropriate then speak “out loud in your head.” What I mean by this is to pretend that you are teaching the material to someone else. This turns on your “teacher voice” in your head, and it has almost the same effect as studying out loud. It isn’t perfect, but better that silently reading.
5. Make your homework a “study tool.” Don’t just answer homework questions with single numbers or even worked equations. Each homework paper should be something that in three months you can pick up, know what each problem was, and be able to understand why you worked it the way you did. Homework is NOT for the teacher. It is for you to learn a skill, and then be able to use it to review by for the final exam. A list of answers is useless.
It takes practice, but as you do your homework get in the habit of writing what you think as you do each problem. If you think a step, write it down and add an explanation to yourself. You are making this paper something you can use for review many weeks later.
One final suggestion: practice going to your teacher’s “office” (classroom), knocking on the door, shaking hands, introducing yourself, and politely asking for help on a particular topic or skill. Be aware that in college math classes you seldom get to ask questions during class, so visiting the professor becomes necessary frequently. Professor offices can be very intimidating, but don’t avoid going for help because you are afraid–Be Prepared!