How to Succeed in Your Math & Stat Courses

All members of the Okanagan College Mathematics and Statistics Department are committed to making your experience in our courses an enjoyable and a successful one. But you must do some things too. These notes are a guide to help you focus on what you must do to succeed in university-level mathematics and statistics courses. The transition from high school to college or university can be difficult. Students who don’t adapt early to the new learning environment can find themselves in real trouble. Don’t let this happen to you!

How Are University-Level Math and Stat Courses Different From High-School Courses?

  • At College and University, the pace is much faster, perhaps two or three times as fast as high-school. It’s your job to work consistently at the course material so that you don’t fall behind.
  • At College and University, much of the learning must take place outside of the classroom. Lecture time is at a premium. During class time, your instructor can provide a framework to guide you in your learning, but there simply isn’t enough time to include every possible detail, every possible problem type. It is up to you to augment the lecture on your own time. Be prepared to spend at least two hours outside of class for each hour in class.
  • At College and University, the expectations are different. It’s not enough to be able to duplicate the solution of standard problem types. We expect you to understand, truly understand, the course material. This means analyzing fairly complex problems, synthesizing several different ideas to attack a problem and applying your knowledge in new situations.
  • At College and University, you are given a lot more freedom and a lot more responsibility. Attendance at lectures, labs, seminars and tutorials is usually voluntary. It’s up to you to make sure you show up. Nobody is going to check with you each day to see if you are doing the homework that the course requires. It’s up to you to do the work. Of course, Math & Stat Department faculty members are here to help you at every step. But, ultimately, you are responsible for your own learning.

How to Study

  • Attend all lectures, labs, seminars and tutorials. Don’t skip classes. If, for some legitimate reason, you must miss a class, get the lecture notes from your instructor or from a fellow student. Talk to your instructor about what was done in class during your absence.
  • Take notes in lectures. You do not have to write down everything your instructor says, writes on the blackboard or displays on a transparency or computer screen. Try to strike a balance between following what your instructor is saying and keeping a written record of the main points of the lecture. You should revisit your lecture notes as soon as possible after the lecture, read them carefully, fill in gaps and make a note of any points that still require clarification. These points should be discussed with your instructor.
  • Read the textbook. The textbook has been carefully chosen with the expectation that you will read it. Some students tend to treat a math or stat text simply as a source of exercises – that’s a mistake. Before each class, you should find out what text sections are going to be covered and read those sections prior to the class. Don’t expect to understand it all – just get the general idea. You’ll be surprised how this pre-reading prepares you to better understand a lecture.
  • Do extra problems. Your instructor will usually assign a list of problems from the text for you to do as practice. You should do at least all of these problems, but you may find it necessary to do more. Work out enough problems so that you truly feel you understand the ideas. You are the only person who can accurately gauge how much homework you need to do.
  • Don’t leave formal assignments until the last minute. If you have an assignment to be handed in for grading, start work on it well before the due date. That way you have time to seek help should difficulties arise.
  • Seek help from your instructor. It is part of your instructor’s job to help you outside of class with any difficulties you may be having with the course. At the beginning of the course, make sure you know your instructor’s policy on office hours. Then, don’t hesitate to ask him or her for help when you need it.
  • Seek help from the Learning Center. Okanagan College operates Learning Centers at each of its four main campuses. The Learning Centers offer many services to students. One of these services is tutorial help with your math and stat courses. For more information on the Learning Centers, see www.okanagan.bc.ca/page1298.aspx.
  • Organize a study group. Many students find it helpful to work as part of a small group. Discussing the course material and homework problems with your group can help you better understand concepts and gain new insights. But, be warned that the group cannot do your learning for you.

How to Prepare For and Write Examinations

  • Don’t rely on cramming. Perhaps cramming works for courses where you need merely to recall previously memorized information. But math and stat courses aren’t like that. For math and stat exams, you will need to demonstrate that you understand ideas and that you can think logically to apply concepts and techniques to solve problems. Cramming just doesn’t work.
  • Keep on top of the course material. If you work steadily and systematically throughout the course and seek help when you need it, you will be prepared to write an exam at any time your instructor chooses.
  • Practice writing exams. Writing exams is an art in itself and practice in an exam situation helps a lot. Prior to the actual exam, find an old exam on the same material. Ask your instructor whether he or she has one that you can use. If not, make up your own using questions from the text. Then write the practice exam, treating it as if it were the real thing. Time yourself and don’t look at your text or at your class notes. Finally, check your solutions with your instructor or in your text. Pay special attention to the questions that you did not do correctly.
  • When writing the exam, use the following strategies. Start by reading through the entire exam. Decide which questions seem easiest to you and do those questions first to get off on the right foot. On a timed exam, the calculations are not likely to become too nasty, so, if they seem to be unreasonably difficult, check carefully for an error in your solution. Don’t become obsessed with any one question so that you spend a huge amount of time on it at the expense of the other questions. Unless the exam is multiple choice, show complete solutions for all questions, not just final answers. Finally, if you have time at the end of the exam, check your work. Read the questions again, make sure that you have answered the question that was asked and that you have provided all necessary details in your solution.
  • Learn from your mistakes. A term test is a learning experience, not just something you get a mark for and then forget about. Make sure you get your graded exam from your instructor as soon as it is available. Read all comments carefully. Compare your solutions with the answer key and make sure you understand the mistakes you made. If your result was not as good as you wanted, discuss with your instructor what you can do to improve your performance on the next exam.