Advice & Tips

Want good class grades?  Want to pass the STAAR test?

Your success in this class, like any other classes you will come across in high school and college, depends on three major things:

1)  How organized you are
2)  How disciplined you are
3)  How much you struggle

Elaborations on these items:

1) Doesn't matter how smart you are.  If you don't keep track of your worksheets, reviews, and deadlines, you will not make good grades.  Why?  Keeping an organized binder is part of your grade!  10%!  That's enough to affect one letter grade! 

Why is that important?  If you don't have your reviews in order, if you don't have them filled out, if you don't have your concise notes:  you won't know the right things to study and the right order to study them.  And when crunch time comes, you will run out of time because you'll be wasting time organizing something you should have organized weeks ago.  No worse feeling than being frustrated with scattered notes, trying to cram in as much as possible the day before your exam!  Even if you managed to cram in all the information, you won't make heads and tails of them and that will prevent you from starting a lot of the problems on your exam.....and that's all it takes to fail an exam.  What good are steps 2, 3, and 4 if you don't know step 1!  Remember, the exams are multiple don't get partial credit for knowing the "rest of the steps".

2) Having great notes and a complete binder is awesome!  But if you don't study them, they might as well be useless!  Some of us have a tendency to "forget" our homework the moment we step into our homes....We turn on the TV and stare at it for hours.  Or we play with our siblings for hours.  Or we hop on the computer and surf the web or chat away on facebook.  Next thing we know it's 1AM.  In all cases, it's due to the lack of discipline.  Trust me, you'll have it it worse when you get into college.  So why fall into this trap now?  If you slip up now, please don't think you'll have time when you're in college to catch up.  You won't!  As mentioned, it can get harder to stay focused in college.

Here's food for thought.  If you've just learned a new math concept, do you think you'll remember it better later today or two days later?  The answer is later today, because it's still fresh on your mind, whereas two days later you might not even remember learning it.  If this is true, why would you wait two days later to do the math problems of the math concept.  Wouldn't it be better (smarter) to do the math problems while the math concept is fresh on your mind?  Do your homework today!

By the way, doing your homework isn't studying...                                                                       It is part of studying!  You need to study before you start on your homework.  Many of you are doing homework without studying (the result is multiple retries on objectives).  Try.....spend 30 minutes reviewing on what you learned in class (go through notes and textbook), then work 60 minutes on as many objectives as you can.  If that doesn't work, you can always tweak those numbers...

Lastly, if a student who makes an A in the class studies 2 hours on math everyday, shouldn't you study AT LEAST that much yourself?  Especially if you don't consider yourself good at math?  Shouldn't you study at least double the number of hours?

3) Like everything in life, when you struggle through something, that is when you have a "real" understanding of that something.  Some of you have expressed how frustrated you are with math problems.  But you see, struggling is part of the process!  Think about this scenario....  You have two people going into a garden maze.  The first person is very lucky, never makes a wrong turn, and finds the exit right away.  The second person, unlucky, constantly retracing steps, "wastes" a lot of time, gets frustrated, and after awhile finally finds the exit.  Now, which of these two people do you think has the solution of the maze?  Imagine those two going back into the same maze.  Who is likely to remember the way to the exit?

In math class, it is actually good if you struggle through some math problems.  You learn what are the wrong steps and sometimes you find alternative solutions (just like the maze situation!)  Moreover, you will remember the right way to start the problem!  This brings up another point, writing down the steps on solving certain problems is the most important part of your notebook.  What good are tools if you don't know when to use them?

Of course there needs to be a balance of how much you're struggling and how much you're not.  There are only 24 hours in a day afterall......

How to study for exams?

I have noticed some of you are not studying for the exams the proper way.  If you have studied for your exam and still scored low, you might want to keep reading....

By the way, "doing" your review without showing work isn't studying.  The whole point of doing review is to SHOW WORK.

As many of you know, I usually give the answers to the review tests prior to the actual exam.  I don't go over the solutions until the review has been in your hands for about a week.  During that time, I expect you to do the problems on your own.
Many of you do not do the review on your own (or just rush through your review and show NO work).  The people who "studied" for their exam but made a low score are the same people who sit on the review exam (or rush through it) until the day I give out the solutions to the review.   They then use the solutions to study for the exam.

I was once a student of that type.  I waited for the solutions (or just guessed the answers) and then studied the solutions as my preparation for the exam.  However, come exam days, when I tackled the problems on the exam, I suddenly realize that I didn't know the step 1 or step 2 of some of the problems.  On some other problems, I knew all the steps, but I didn't know in which order.

If you ever had this experience, it is caused by improper studying.  It is improper in that you did not really understand the problem.  You may have understood the solution, but you didn't fully understand the problem. [REMEMBER, IN PROBLEM VS. ANSWER, the problem is always more important than the answer... since you can find the answer given the problem, but not vice versa.]

Here's an analogy for you.  Imagine you have a sister who starts to learn to play the piano.  Every week you watch her practice, and over a span of 2 years, she becomes a very good pianist.  You've seen all the practices, the keys pressed within songs.  You sit down and play the piano.........and realized you don't know how to play.  

Just by watching how a song is played out by another person on the piano doesn't make you proficient at playing the piano.  It is the same with learning mathematics.  Just because you read through a solution and "understand" it doesn't make you proficient at solving the problem.  You have to actually do it, you have to actually work out the problem, you have to actually practice with it!  

Going back to item 3 from the top half of this page, you have to struggle through a problem to fully understand it.  Just like you have to struggle through a song to know which keys not to press when you first learn a song on the piano.  Struggling is part of practicing, and practicing is part of learning how to solve math problems.  Reading solutions is the same as being fed the solution, and no one is going to feed you the solution come test time!

Here's a second analogy...  Your mom wants you to buy some items at the grocery store.  She gives you a shopping list.  At the store, you lose the list.  Now.....  Would you remember what is on the list if she had made the list for you, or if you had made the list?  Again, it is better if you do it yourself (making your own solutions) instead of someone else do it for you (reading someone else's solutions).

Show all steps!

Another common mistake I see students make is on their assignments and exams--they show no work.  How do you expect to check your work if it isn't even there!  If there are missing steps, then you won't be able to catch those mistakes made within the skipped steps.  Again, if you don't practice showing the steps, you won't be able to visualize the steps in your head should you ever choose to do a problem mentally.  You have to first know how to do a problem the proper way before you can do it mentally. This is why many students trip up on problems in which they use "shortcuts".

Just like in real life, you don't know what is a shortcut until you've tried all the routes to the destination.  If you don't know all the different ways to do a problem, how would you know what is the shortcut?