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Disc2021's avatar

Tips for College Algebra/Precalculus?

Asked by Disc2021 (4491points) February 28th, 2010

Okay, math truly is a second language for me. I think, think, think some more, try to work it out then discover it’s all wrong – then try again, etc. The material conceptually just doesn’t connect with me and I mostly end up just jogging in circles.

All I need to do is get through this course and I’ll be done with math for good. I’ve already blown one test. Studying helps but when test time comes my mind collapses. Getting tutored helps also – but as soon as I’m practicing on my own I end up with the same issues.

Can anyone give me any suggestions? I’ve also tried throwing my math book out of the window, slamming the calculator against the ground and beating my head against the desk – everything I do seems to prove ineffective.

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14 Answers

cockswain's avatar

I took algebra last semester and now I’m taking trig. I’m finding the key for me is to first read the chapter and some of it will sink in. Read it a second time and do practice problems as you go through and it clicks pretty well at that point (for me at least). So far reading the chapter twice has been sufficient to earn As, but I suspect this will change as I keep climbing the math ladder. So persistence and lots of thinking.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Don’t cram.Formulas may not seem that they can relate to anything in life but algebra is essential for calculus and trig.Just memorize the formulas and you’ll do fine and won’t choke.If you don’t understand a question,go on to the next and come back later.Good luck.You can do it :))

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I found that the problem is that my basic understanding from high school is full of holes. I needed college level statistics for a course at work, and had to go back and do a lot of extra work on basics—like six times the work I should have spent. But it really helped.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

One thing to remember with algebra is that everything is done logically and according to set rules. For example, everything you do to one side of an equation you must do to the other. You are usually trying to isolate a variable, keep your objective in mind. Practice working through the sample problems and re-read the text explanations. Eventually you will get to the point where you can juggle terms and take shortcuts, but don’t take the shortcuts until you fully understand what you are doing. Trigonometry and calculus will proceed along the same lines. Try to think logically and procedurally. You can do it. :^)

filmfann's avatar

Remember that God has 8 fingers.
Counting base 8 will show you the mysteries of the universe.

DeanV's avatar

See if you can learn some programming with your graphing calculator. That’s helped me loads, and it’s also just a good thing to know.

Other than that, though, you get what you put into it. I was lucky enough to have a good teacher for it, and he was helpful and actually cared what people got in the class. I think I got lucky, though.

mrrich724's avatar

A few tips that worked for me, and I’m not a math genius:

- Attend every single lecture
– Do any work assigned after school so it can sink in
– Take the practice tests if there are any
-Also, if there are TA’s or older students who offer sessions (like little group tutoring sessions before the test), it’s usually worth the 15 or 20 bucks. Hearing it explained by someone who’s “more on your level” like a student rather than a professor, may help it click because it sounds different.

Hope any of that helps.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I struggled with math in H.S. Fast-forward to now and I can solve differential equations in my head. It’s 100% practice. It was a second language for even the most gifted at one point.

SuperMouse's avatar

Go slow. For me the secret to math is going slowly and paying attention to detail – one misplaced negative sign, or any other small error, and the party is over. @stranger_in_a_strange_land‘s point is crucial, all of algebra is based on logic and follows a clear set of rules. It also helped me to visualize an algebraic equation as kind of a scale, in order to keep things even, whatever you do to one side you have to do to the other. Working slowly, steadily, neatly, and logically will get you through math every time.

DarkScribe's avatar

Okay, math truly is a second language for me. I think, think, think some more, try to work it out then discover it’s all wrong

Are you saying that you are illiterate or dyslexic?

dee1313's avatar

Ask your professor for extra assignments (oh boy, doesn’t that sound like fun?).

I’m not kidding though. Math has always come easily to me, except for Calc. Seems to me, go to class, ask questions, make sure you understand it, and then do your homework that (or even right after class) to make sure you understand it. If not, have someone to walk you through it until you can start taking the next steps yourself.

Practice is all I can say. Over and over and over again, until you can come back a few days later and do it without needing assistance. Then you know it.

I’d be happy to help you out if I can. I love math, and have been wanting to do some problems lately.

Disc2021's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille I agree. Problem is, I dont have to take Calculus so my mission is to get out and over this course rather than to actually understand/grasp it conceptually. My attitude needs changing but this stuff just frustrates me like nothing else. It’s like the worst kind of torture I could imagine.

@PandoraBoxx It seems like this could be some of my problem, too. It seems when I’m doing problems, I’ll miss a rule – or forget to do something I should have done and inevitably I’ll end up looking up old formulas online and what not. Perhaps I should get back to the basics.

@stranger_in_a_strange_land I seem to be making progress by doing just that. Reading, re-reading, practice, and repracticing does pay off. Pounding the logic into my head is my issue – mid-problem I’ll blank out and try another method out of desperation. Ehh.

@mrrich724 Thanks for your suggestions – I’ve made a few math friends so before the next test I’ll be sure to have a sit-down with them.

@SuperMouse I’ll take that advice – I find that the more patient I am the less I’m prone to make mistakes.

Thanks for all the replies – I’m slowly working my way and it helps that I actually understand the next section we’re in a bit better.

livnonthedge's avatar

I know for myself, the more worked up I get about a subject and think I’m incapable of tackling it, the harder it gets. I think you need to just relax a bit and not put so much stress on yourself. That could be part of the problem. Also, do you try to do everything at once? Do you give yourself some breaks and “reward” yourself during studying? I always feel like these “mental blocks” are psychological in nature. You can do it!

dee1313's avatar

What @livnonthedge is talking about is the Self Fulfilling Prophesy. It’s a real thing, and basically a version of the placebo effect. Just don’t give up! If anything, have your teacher work stuff out with you, hopefully the one-on-one will help him/her figure out what exactly you are having problems with.

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