Tips for Doing Well in Math Classes

Adapted from Dave Levermore (who adapted from Duane Kouba) by Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux.


  • Develop an effective and time-efficient homework/study strategy, not only your math class, but all your classes (and extra-curriculars). This will help you become a more confident, successful, and well-rounded student (and person!). It will lead to a healthier balance between work time and leisure time.
  • Look over material before it is covered in lecture. This will enable you to follow lectures better because you have some understanding of the material. It will also enable you to formulate questions about things you do not understand. The better you understand the lectures, the more productive your subsequent study time will be.
  • Spend two to three hours of work per in-class hour: review your notes, go to tutorial, do practice problems with a study group or by yourself, do your homework, go to office hours, etc. Make sure you'll have enough time to work on challenging homework problems. Putting time into your notes will facilitate organizing your thoughts and ideas. But after that, the more time you spend on working out problems, the more likely you are to articulate clear, concise questions and answers to your classmates and teachers. The more time you spend on practice, the less time you will spend on frantic, last-minute preparation for exams.
  • Find at least one or two other students from your math class with whom you can regularly do homework and prepare for exams. Your classmates are perhaps the least used and arguably your best resource. An efficient and effective study group will streamline homework and study time, reduce the need for attendance at office hours, and greatly improve your written and spoken communication. You might need some persistence in finding study buddies -- that's an important life skill to develop so start now!
  • Begin preparing/outlining for exams at least five class days before the exam. That's a week in advance folks!! Outlining the topics, definitions, theorems, equations, etc. that you need to know for the exam will help you focus on those areas where you are least prepared. Preparing early for the exam will build your self-confidence and reduce anxiety on the day of the exam. It's also an insurance policy against time lost to illness, unexpected family visits, and last minute assignments in other classes. Generally speaking, pulling all-nighters and doing last-minute cramming for exams is a recipe for eventual academic disaster. Especially for courses that require to think deeply and solve problems (as your math classes do).
  • Take charge of your own learning. Prepare for exams by working on new problems . Good sources for these problems are unassigned problems from your textbook, review exercises and practice exams at the end of each chapter or old exams. Because most problems for a given topic are generally found in the same section of the book, knowing how to do a problem because you know what section of the book it is in could give you a false sense of security. It is better to work on randomly mixed new problems because it requires that you both categorize a problem and then solve it, which more closely simulates an exam situation. See if you can invent problems to stump your study group!
  • Prepare for exams by finding new ways to do old problems . Many problems in this course will have more than one way to do them. The more ways you see how to do a problem, the more likely it is that you know the best way to do the problem, and the better you understand the problem. Knowing the best way to do problems saves time on exams (and life). Once you have found one way to do a problem, you can build upon that understanding by seeking other ways to do it. One way to do this is by comparing your solution with those of your classmates, so seek out people to work with. You will find that explaining your solution to others will challenge your own understanding and stimulate new insights.
  • Use all resources of information which are available to you. These include classnotes, homework, quiz, and exam solutions, your professor, tutoring services, on-line resources, and your classmates. Do not rely exclusively on just one or two of these resources. Using all of them will help you develop a broader, more natural base of knowledge.
  • Expect your exams to be challenging . If they are challenging, you will be prepared. If they aren't challenging, you will likely do very well.
  • You came to McGill to become an independent thinker, problem-solver, and leader. This course is an excellent stepping stone on that trajectory!