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Getting ready for math-related classes in the new semester: Part 1

Get ready to do well in your math-related courses this semester
Published January 2, 2019 by Julia Lane

As a new Fall semester begins, many students start courses such as math, physics, computing science, engineering and statistics. These can be tough classes with a rapid progression in workload and difficulty, but steady preparation can mount a strong defense to the inevitable pressure and stress.

  Review pre-requisite material

  • Technical classes are very cumulative. Before your classes begin, or during the first week, take time to review the pre-requisite materials. Read each course syllabus to get a sense of the most important pre-requisite topics. Then, review your notes and textbooks, re-write the foundational definitions, theorems and proofs, and solve some typical problems from past courses.

  • It’s better to cover a broad range of past topics rather than deep dive into one specific area, since the goal is simply to brush up on relevant skills.

  Get to know the language again

  • Math-related classes have their own written language. It’s really a more compact form of writing the same thing in English, for example:

    • In math, f’'(x) means the second derivative of the function f(x)

    • In physics, Fnet means the net force acting on an object

    • In statistics, E(X) means the expected value of the random variable X

  • Familiarize yourself with this language again. It’s like learning any other language – if you haven’t used it for a while, you can always pick it up again with a little review.

  Practice computer programming

  • If your course has a computer programming component, learn or practice that language. Get used to the basic syntax and write some basic scripts and functions.

  • Look for assignments and solutions in courses from previous semesters, and find a programming exercise to practice.

  Keep old textbooks (or borrow from the Library)

  • Many of my higher-level math classes were just harder, more in-depth versions of lower-level classes, so your earlier textbooks might explain concepts more clearly. My graduate classes had some very badly written textbooks, so I abandoned them entirely and relied on my undergrad textbooks instead – they explained the concepts to almost the same level of depth but with much more clarity.

textbook with a light bulb above

- Eric Cai 

Want to know more about Eric? Read his In Common welcome interview here


* A version of this post previously appeared on the SFU Careers Blog ENGAGE. Re-posted with thanks! 


Image credits: 

Ideas book by Laymik from the Noun Project

Math by Maria Zamchy from the Noun Project