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Friday, November 6, 2009

Keep Up! Ask Questions! YOU CAN DO IT!

Keep up.
If I could give just one piece of advice to my math students, this would be it: Keep up with the class. I’ll say it another way: Don’t fall behind. “Getting behind is academic suicide.”
To an extent that’s true in any field, of course, but it’s particularly true in your math courses. More than any other field, math is relentlessly cumulative. Almost every class depends on what came in the immediately preceding classes. If you don’t quite get the material in one class, you need to learn it yourself right away or you can pretty much expect to be lost in the next class.
Since it takes a huge effort to catch up once you fall behind, your best strategy is not to let yourself fall behind. If you don’t understand something, deal with it right away. (Very few things magically become clear over time.) In class, ask a question. Don’t wait: your brain will be nibbling at the thing you didn’t understand and that will distract you from the rest of the lecture.
Outside class, you have a little more time, but still make sure to get all your questions answered by the start of the next class. Start by reviewing your textbook. If you need to, come see Glenn on most Wednesday mornings before school, or at the very least, send him an email. Talk to your friends who might be able to help. Or your Parents, Tutors or any other older person who knows something about math.
If you have to give one course short shrift because you don’t have enough time one week for all your classes, don’t slight the math class. I say this not because math is better or more important than any other class, but because the penalties for falling behind are more severe. In most classes you can usually understand most of one lecture if you didn’t understand the previous one; in math that’s very often not true.
What if you do fall behind? It can happen even to good students. In this case, my advice is to put in extra effort and work through the missed material in order. Since the concepts are sequential, it will be pretty inefficient to try to study what the class is studying if you haven’t mastered the previous week’s work. Stick with the same order that the class followed, but put in the extra effort to catch up as quickly as you can while still learning everything.
Be sure to let me know what happened; I may be able to give you specific advice or help to use your time most effectively. If I know you had a problem but you’re trying to catch up, I will probably be willing to work with you, possibly even to cut you some slack about quizzes if the problem was beyond your control.

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