As we enter the middle of the semester, it’s a great time to take a step back and consider how your classes are going. You might conclude that everything is going great, but you also might realize that your study strategy could benefit from a few tweaks or even a whole overhaul.
This process is useful for all of your classes, but learning how to do it is a skill unto itself.
Here we are going to focus on what this kind of reflection might look like for your math class—and what kinds of changes you might want to make if you aren’t thrilled with your conclusions.
Take a few minutes to stop and ask yourself these questions:
How well am I understanding the material in the class?
To dig deeper into this question, you might consider the following:
- Are there any concepts I feel like I don’t get at all?
- Are there concepts where I can follow the set procedure but I don’t know why any of it works?
- If a new variation on the concepts we have been learning shows up, would I be able to figure it out?
- If I go back and look at tests/quizzes/classwork from the beginning of the semester, would I be able to do at least as well on them now as I did then?
How is my grade in the class?
Again, I’d recommend considering the following more detailed questions:
- Does my grade reflect how well I feel like I understand the material?
- Are there any specific contributors to my grade (e.g. homework, quizzes, tests) where I know I want to do better?
- Am I happy with my current grade?
What To Do Next
Sometimes your reflections will result in “Yup! Things are going great!” Of course, this is what we hope for!
But, for students who aren’t happy, here are some common ways they might feel after reflecting and a few practical steps with which to respond.
“I’m getting by…
…My grades are ok and I’m passing the tests and quizzes, but I don’t really feel like I understand the foundational concepts. If I go back and look at stuff from the beginning of the semester I might not remember the steps well enough to do them consistently, but I should be fine.”
This approach may have worked for past math classes, and depending on your situation it might continue to work here.
However, at some point there is likely to be a final, high school exit exam, standardized test, AP test—or even just a future unit in this class—that is going to expect you to remember and apply that older material.
“Just getting by” often seems like it is working fine right up until it suddenly doesn’t. If you are ready to work toward understanding more than just enough to get by, a good first step is to start asking “why?”
“Why are these the steps I need to take to solve this problem?”
“Why does this work?”
That deeper level of understanding will both make it easier to remember things long term, and it will make you more flexible in your ability to solve problems. If a question looks almost (but not quite) like one you know how to do, you are more likely to be able to work out how to tweak your process if you know why it works on the “basic" version of the problem.
It’s important to recognize that this is a mindset shift; it’s not something where you can just flip a switch and suddenly understand everything. In addition, sometimes (at first, often) you will ask yourself “why?” and come back with “I have no idea.”
You might need to ask more questions in class or seek out resources outside of class. If you feel like it’s time to start asking “why?” and getting answers, working with a one-on-one expert math tutor might be the solution. Call 866-789-PREP (7737) or schedule a call with a Program Director today to get started.
“I’m completely lost…
...and not sure I should even be in this class. My grades are terrible and I’m afraid I’m going to fail.”
That’s a stressful place to be, but it is early enough in the year that it is possible to recover! Your teacher almost certainly wants you to succeed in this class, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.
Think about what is and isn’t working (and what has and hasn’t worked for you in past math classes).
Is this a situation where you didn’t have the foundation you needed and would benefit from having someone help you review material from last year? Are you just not clicking with the teacher? Does it feel like the class is moving too quickly? Are there things going on outside of class that are making it harder to do your work?
Once you have some sense of what might help (or have concluded that you just really don’t know—that’s ok too!), it is time to ask for help.
A parent, your teacher, the school guidance counselor, a tutor or, likely, some combination of these resources can help you make a plan to get back on track and support you through that process.
If you need support that your school can’t provide, one of our Program Directors can help you build the team that will help you succeed.
“My grades don’t make sense…
…I study a lot and practically memorize my review sheets, but then my scores on the tests don’t seem to reflect how hard I’m working.”
As you progress in math (and many other classes) the problems where you can get by on memorization are steadily replaced by problems that rely more heavily on problem solving and critical thinking skills.
The questions want to know if you can apply concepts and ideas, not just work through the steps you have memorized. You are working hard, but as your classes change how they test the material, you also need to change how you study.
Asking your teacher for advice on how to study for their tests is a great start—it’s one of the things they are there for! But, if their advice doesn’t work for you or you aren’t sure how to implement it effectively, a tutor can help.
…Sometimes I think I get it in class or on the homework, so I know I should be able to use the concepts on a test. But then, when the test comes, it turns out I apparently don’t know the material as well as I thought.”
A good first step here is to go over your old tests, ideally with your teacher or a tutor, to work out where you are missing points.
Sometimes you truly don’t understand the material as well as you thought you did. In this case, try doing homework or review problems under something closer to testing conditions. See how much you can get done without referencing your notes, and when you do need to, pay attention to which things you are looking up.
Sometimes, you will discover that you do know the material, but that you are losing points for things like not showing enough work or giving sufficient explanations. That’s an easier fix, and likely just requires you to work a bit more slowly or carefully.
Sometimes it turns out that you understand the current material but are making mistakes on foundational material, either because you have gaps in your understanding or because you are working quickly on them and not being as careful as you could be on the “easy” bits.
Often it will turn out to be a combination of a few things. Once you know where you are missing points, you can work on adjusting your study process to improve them.
Ask For Help and Build That Strong Skills Foundation!
Regardless of where you currently are, now is a great time to make tweaks to your studying to help you get to where you want to be.
If you aren’t happy with how things are going, don’t wait until end-of-semester tests and deadlines are looming. The sooner you start making changes the bigger their impacts can be!
If you know you want to make changes and none of the situations we looked at here feel helpful, give us a call at 866-789-PREP (7737) or schedule a call with a Program Director, who can help you figure out what kind of support would be the most useful in jumpstarting your math success.