Math Strategies


Taken from “How to be a Great Math Student”

By Richard Manning Smith, Ph.D.



¨      Begin with an open mind.   The most important quality that will affect your success is your attitude.

¨      If you can achieve success in a “difficult” math course, your awareness of that success can inspire you to pursue challenging projects in the future without becoming demoralized.

¨      Recognize that you have control over how well you will do in the course.

¨      Decide now that you will make an honest effort to do well in the course.

¨      Decide now that you will work not merely to pass the course but to do much better than pass.

¨      Decide now that you will persist in working hard in the course until the end, regardless of any setbacks that might occur along the way.

¨      Make an exceptional effort from the beginning.  Be over dedicated for the first two or three weeks of the course.

¨      Select your teacher with care.  Ask for recommendations from your counselor or tutor.

¨      Buy the textbook early.  Get a head start by reading appropriate sections before the course starts.



¨      Feel free to ask questions in class.  Don’t put off questions until later.

¨      Attend all classes.  Missing even one class can put you behind in the course by at least two classes.

¨      Arrive on time or a little early, get out your notes and homework, and identify any questions you have for the instructor.

¨      Sit in the front and center of the class.

¨      Use one three-ring binder devoted exclusively to math.  Keep all your notes and tests in order.

¨      Take a complete set of notes.  Compare notes with another person in class to fill in any parts you missed.

¨      Take a tape recorder to class to tape the lecture in addition to taking notes in class.



¨      Plan your study schedule carefully.  Give yourself a number of hours to study math every day.

¨      Choose a time of day to study math when you are especially alert.

¨      Work with a tutor, the instructor, or a study buddy every day.

¨      Read your math notes on the same day that you wrote them.

¨      Read the textbook and understand the concepts before starting your homework.

¨      A math textbook needs to be read slowly.  You do not have to read the whole chapter at once.  Read through a section, and then go through the examples.  Rework the examples without looking at the solution.

¨      Avoid test anxiety with solid preparation.

¨      Begin to prepare at least a week before the test.

¨      Write a list of all the topics the test might cover.  List each kind of word problem separately on your topics list.

¨      Find specific problems for each topic on your list.  Work out problems one topic at a time, until you are completely confident you understand that topic.

¨      Make up practice tests that have the same form as the test you will take.

¨      Think of ways to distinguish each type of problem from any other.  Write a list of similarities and differences.  Check that you have accurately identified the correct method for solving each problem.

¨      Aim for getting 100% on the test.  Over learn the material.  You can’t study too much.




Strategies for Math Word Problems

1)   Ignore numbers at first and read the story.  It may help some students to read the question aloud.  Every word problem tells a story.  Before deciding what math operation is required, retell the story in your own words.  Who is involved?  Are they receiving gifts, losing something, or dividing a treat?

2)   Relate the story to real life, perhaps by using names of family members. 

3)   Build, draw, or act out the story.  Use the blocks or actual objects when practical. 

4)   Look for practical applications that use the concept and ask questions in that context.

5) Read the problem carefully looking for clues and important information. Write down the clues, underline, or highlight the clues.

6) If necessary, rewrite the problem to help find these clues.

7) Use variable symbols, such as “X” for missing information.

8) Eliminate all non-essential information by drawing a line through distracting information.

9) Develop a plan based on the information determined to be important for solving the problem.

10) Carry out the plan using the math operations which were determined would find the answer.

11) Does the answer seem reasonable, if it does then it is probably ok – if not then check the work.

12) Work the problem in reverse or backwards, starting with the answer to see if you wind up with your original problem.