How to study and learn math (or anything, really)

Professors Warren Esty and Norah Esty


            Learning takes effort, time, and concentration. 


The Basics


Attend class. Most serious students attend every class.

Do the homework. Good students take the commitment seriously. "Practice makes perfect." Not doing a homework on time is a warning signal that you are getting behind.



Beyond the Basics (Important things you might not know are in blue)



Serious Students

To learn math more efficiently you must learn to read math. You learn to read by reading.


                     Read your text. Read with two goals:

1) to learn the current material

            2) to practice reading in order to learn to read more fluently. The ideas of mathematics are best expressed in written symbols (not aloud in English). By learning to read you learn how mathematics really works.

                     Think of the book as a well-designed lecture you can follow at your own pace.


           If you find reading your text difficult, you can blame the text, or take responsibility and recognize that you are dangerously weak at an important skill – mathematics reading comprehension.  The harder you find reading math, the more you need to work at it. Don't kid yourself. No one else will take time to teach you to read math – you’ve got to do it yourself.


           Figure it out! If something in the text does not make sense right away, take the time to figure it out. Read it again with your brain in gear. Study the text's example again. Go over it, carefully, until it makes sense.

   Asking your instructor to explain something is sometimes necessary, but not as often as students seem to think. If you read the text and work on an example with the intent to figure it out, you probably can. Then your learning will be better and longer lasting than if you ask someone else to do it. Plus, in the process, you will be learning how to learn! You will find you are getting better and better at understanding what you read. The effort pays dividends, not just for today's lesson, but for all future reading. Believe it!


           Reflect. Do not walk out of class and immediately put on your earphones and join the world of entertainment. Right after class is the very best time to review the material, even if only in your mind as you walk across campus, and move it to long-term memory.



            "Deferred gratification" is a reward to be received later. It takes serious effort to develop skills for which employers pay well. (Many older students return to college after learning that the hard way.) Put that effort in now. Learn to appreciate your developing skills. Enjoy your education. Enjoy the process, and you will do well.