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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mathematics Tips: Getting Assistance

When

Get help as soon as you need it. Don't wait until a test is near. The new material builds on the previous sections, so anything you don't understand now will make future material difficult to understand.

Use the Resources You Have Available

  • Ask questions in class. You get help and stay actively involved in the class.
  • Visit the Instructor's Office Hours. Instructors like to see students who want to help themselves.
  • Ask friends, members of your study group, or anyone else who can help. The classmate who explains something to you learns just as much as you do, for he/she must think carefully about how to explain the particular concept or solution in a clear way. So don't be reluctant to ask a classmate.
  • Go to the Math Help Sessions or other tutoring sessions on campus.
  • Find a private tutor if you can't get enough help from other sources.
  • All students need help at some point, so be sure to get the help you need.

Asking Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Any question is better than no question at all (at least your Instructor/tutor will know you are confused). But a good question will allow your helper to quickly identify exactly what you don't understand.

  • Not too helpful comment: "I don't understand this section." The best you can expect in reply to such a remark is a brief review of the section, and this will likely overlook the particular thing(s) which you don't understand.
  • Good comment: "I don't understand why f(x + h) doesn't equal f(x) + f(h)." This is a very specific remark that will get a very specific response and hopefully clear up your difficulty.
  • Good question: "How can you tell the difference between the equation of a circle and the equation of a line?"
  • Okay question: "How do you do #17?"
  • Better question: "Can you show me how to set up #17?" (the Instructor can let you try to finish the problem on your own), or "This is how I tried to do #17. What went wrong?" The focus of attention is on your thought process.
  • Right after you get help with a problem, work another similar problem by yourself.

You Control the Help You Get

Helpers should be coaches, not crutches. They should encourage you, give you hints as you need them, and sometimes show you how to do problems. But they should not, nor be expected to, actually do the work you need to do. They are there to help you figure out how to learn math for yourself.

  • When you go to office hours, your study group or a tutor, have a specific list of questions prepared in advance. You should run the session as much as possible.
  • Do not allow yourself to become dependent on a tutor. The tutor cannot take the exams for you. You must take care to be the one in control of tutoring sessions.
  • You must recognize that sometimes you do need some coaching to help you through, and it is up to you to seek out that coaching.
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