2008-12-12 / Columnists

Ken's Math Korner

How To Learn Math
Commentary By Ken Rochelle, MBA

Learning math is quite different from learning other subjects. It's certainly different than learning isolated procedural tasks, such as how to change a flat tire. Math needs to be learned step-by-step. If you don't completely understand a particular topic, and are unable to perform tasks involving that topic with ease, there is no point in moving on to a new topic that depends upon the first one. However, this is exactly what most schools do, although in many cases, they simply don't have a choice.

Whether you are learning math from a website, the classroom, or a private tutor, it is important not to move past a particular topic until you are confident you understand the math you are working on. You will simply fall farther behind, and will get more confused and frustrated.

Another important thing to understand is that you need to work on material that is at your level. This can be very humbling if you are very far behind in math, but there is no point in struggling to learn material that you are not yet ready for. Many of my high school students struggled to solve equations such as 7x - 9 = 16x + 13, when the real problem was that they never fully learned basic arithmatic like addition and subtraction.

Try to find material that is at a level that you completely understand, and begin studying math from that point forward. It's OK if it's many levels below your grade level. If you study hard, you will be able to catch up very quickly, and more importantly, you will have a solid understanding of all the fundamentals.

It's important to study math every day if you want to get good at it. Don't just finish your homework, close your book, and say "I'm done." You need to think about the material, close your book and quiz yourself, and then think about it some more. Each day, you also have to go back and review earlier material.

Math is not about "doing," it's about understanding. It's about thinking. Don't just answer a question. Ask yourself why the answer makes sense, and why the method you used is correct. If you study in this fashion, you should have no trouble passing your math tests. The math has to become a part of you. That can only happen, if you are willing to put in a great deal of effort every single day. Think about how you learn a sport or a musical instrument. It takes daily practice and concentration to excel in sports and music. Learning math is exactly the same.
Practice Questions:
Algebra:
6(-5x - 16) = -30y +84
Solve for y.
SAT Question:
If S is the sum of 8,6,4,2 and X, what
must be the value of x for x to equal
1/5 S?
Have something to say, contact Ken
at kenrochelle@gmail.com. For the
solution(s), visit www.kenthetutor.org.

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