This essay was written by a developmental math student in May, 1999, and is used here with his kind permission.
When I started this semester I have to admit, I was really lost. Since I never had Algebra in high school and never really had to use it in the military, I found myself in a brand new world. However, now at semester's end, I find myself with an A average and a total understanding of the basics for Algebra. Going from lost to easy street was not without much work. Here are the simple procedures that anyone can use to receive a good grade in this class:
1. ATTEND ALL CLASSES: Even though you receive a complete syllabus and use a step by step textbook, I found it was not enough to keep up with the work. Reading how to do a problem in the text was one thing, however watching the teacher show the steps on the board was quite another. In our class, we ALWAYS started a new day with a review of the last day and a complete review of all homework assigned. Many, many questions would be asked, and it was your chance to see how that one specific problem that just didn't click with your mind the night before was done.
2. USE THE MATH LAB: In the first 8 weeks of the semester I spent more time in the Math Lab than I did in the classroom. I made it a habit to do all assigned homework right after class at the Lab. There I received one on one help with very knowledgeable people. Sometimes they would offer another way to solve the same problem At times their way just "clicked" in my mind and gave me a better understanding to the procedures for solving the problem. Most importantly, I never left the Lab without a feeling of complete understanding of the new material. By the time I came to class the next time, I was ready to hear the other students comments and usually could answer them myself, using the information I had received from the Lab. Remember, I probably averaged two hours, 2-3 times a week at the Lab for the first 8 weeks before I finally found myself being able to keep up with new items without the use of the Lab. So while the first 8 weeks were long and intensive, the last 8 were relatively easy.
3. USE THE SAMPLE QUIZZES & TESTS FROM INTERNET: I always printed out these quizzes/tests at least one week before we were going to have our quiz/test and went through them. Any questions that I did not completely understand, back to the Lab I went. When it came to the class before the test, if there was any problem that I still did not have a complete understanding about, I would ask the teacher to do the specific problem on the board. Most times I already had the right answer, but I was looking for the "logical" reason for the answer, so it would just "click" in my mind. Letting the teacher know this helped him give me the information I was looking for.
4. TAKE NOTES IN CLASS ON SPECIFIC PROCEDURES: I did not take many notes. However, what I did do was to write down in my words the rules for all algebraic "rules". For example, you have to know that when adding or subtracting you must find the Least Common Denominator first; when multiplying you have to know that a positive number X a positive number will give you a positive number, a negative X a positive will give you a negative, and a negative X a negative will give you a positive. Many more of these "rules" were made know to us during the classes as we went through the text. Writing these "rules" down and actually memorizing them made the problems easy. I believe doing so much work in the Lab (doing problems over and over) is what finally made the "rules" stick in my head. I finally could just look at a problem and know what the "rules" were for any specific problem. So one page of notes with just the rules written down is all I had to do for the entire semester...ONE PAGE.
5. LEARN HOW TO CHECK YOUR WORK: Last, and probably most important, is learning how to check your answers so that when you take a quiz/test you can be sure that the answer is correct. There is always a second way to get the same answer. Learn this and you will always walk out of a quiz/test with the confidence that you did well.
Using these 5 steps will assure you a good grade, but more importantly, it will assure you that you have really learned the subject and it will stay with you for future use.