How can I learn to be good at math?

  • Thread starter ErichFranz
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  • #1

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The title says it all.

I've always been pretty bad at math. Never took anything beyond precal and statistics, and I did terribly in those two classes, but I didn't try very hard either. I rarely studied, except maybe the night before a test.

What can I do to get better at math?
 

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  • #2
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In order to do well in classes, I believe that study and going beyond the homework problems will suffice. A good study group is excellent as well. What the study group will do is act as a community to build on similar interests. However, I think a bad study group can be counterproductive.

But if your question is not just for a class. Then I would say to have fun most of all (of course you should have fun anyway). There is some amount of grinding through problems that is needed. However, I did most of my math and physics learning with my friends while we were putting off homework. We would play games with proofs or states that were impossible and see who could figure out what was wrong the first.we would create perpetual motion machines and methods to travel faster than light. One problem in particular took me over a year to figure out. Most of the time even the creator did not know what was wrong immediately.

So, the answer depends on your goal. But it can come down to having fun, hard work, and time.
 
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  • #3
HallsofIvy
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The same way you get to Carnegie Hall! Practice, practice, practice. When reading a math book, have paper and pencil and work through all examples. Then do lots of exercises. In fact, try to think up exercises, like those in the text, on your own.
 
  • #4
Is it really just practice or is there another way, like completely changing my thinking?

What is it that makes some people good at math and others not?
 
  • #5
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Some people care, others don't. It's as simple as that.

If you don't care about math and just want to BS your way to an A, you can easily do that, but you won't get good at math. That's what I did up until two years ago. Then I started caring, and I learned math on my own, caught up with the crowd and then passed them.

Its really not hard if you have motivation. The only hard part is getting the motivation.

Also, struggling with problems helps a lot. It may seem like a waste to spend 1 hour on a problem, but its not. Also, thinking about theorems is good. Doubt every theorem at first, then try to prove it to yourself. That's how you learn best.
 
  • #6
symbolipoint
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If you really want to be good at math, you will spend more time on what you both need and want to study everyday, and will not want to do much else; nobody will tell you what to study and nobody will tell you how long to study it; you will just spend several hours on what you study, and you will do it everyday.

On the contrary, if you just try to do the minimum to get an acceptable grade, you will only learn weakly. Follow the quoted advice:

Is it really just practice or is there another way, like completely changing my thinking?

What is it that makes some people good at math and others not?
Some people care, others don't. It's as simple as that.

If you don't care about math and just want to BS your way to an A, you can easily do that, but you won't get good at math. That's what I did up until two years ago. Then I started caring, and I learned math on my own, caught up with the crowd and then passed them.

Its really not hard if you have motivation. The only hard part is getting the motivation.

Also, struggling with problems helps a lot. It may seem like a waste to spend 1 hour on a problem, but its not. Also, thinking about theorems is good. Doubt every theorem at first, then try to prove it to yourself. That's how you learn best.
 
  • #7
I didn't take math seriously in school. I would BS my way through it and end up passing with a B, usually.

But now I care about math, because of how powerful and useful it can be, if you know how to use it. One of the things that motivated me to get better at math was a lecture that pz myers gave, about evolution. Near the end of it he said something like "math is a good indicator of how well someone will be at science." And since I'm generally interested in science, I decided that improving my math skills would help me understand science better.

The other thing that motivated me was the book "Outliers." In the book it says that 10,000 hours is the approximate amount of time it takes to be a pro at anything. I don't know if that information is accurate or not. It was found in a study by K Anders Ericsson where he asked violinists how much they practiced in total. He found that the best ones all practiced about 10,000 hours total. In his study, he didn't find any naturals nor any "grinds."

I used to think that being good at math was a skill that people were born with. And because of that, I lost interest in math. I figured there was no point for me to try to be good at something I wasn't born with. So I put in minimal effort to learn it and just enough effort to get a passing grade. But Outliers gave me hope! However delusional it may be.

I spend more time studying math now than I ever did in school.

But still, there are people who just seem to "get it" with minimal effort. If it all came down to hard work and dedication, how would you explain people like that?
 
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  • #8
Also, thinking about theorems is good. Doubt every theorem at first, then try to prove it to yourself. That's how you learn best.
I'll take this into consideration.
 
  • #9
"But still, there are people who just seem to "get it" with minimal effort. If it all came down to hard work and dedication, how would you explain people like that?"
Two possible of that i can give are 1 . their basics are very good and they have a thorough knowledge about them, and this makes there job easier .also they may be more attentive duting the lecture. 2 tje second possible case is they are good at cramming. but you need to consider that thinking about yhem will do no good. "dont look sideways when your aim is straight". you need to think aboutonly those things that will make you better in mathematics.
 
  • #10
I think the consensus is that IF you have a high enough IQ THEN what sets those with the high IQ apart from EACH OTHER is PRACTICE. Which is a no-brainer, if you have a good enough working memory to handle all the complex memory transformations then the only thing you are missing is content not coordination, but it obviously takes time to build up your long-term memory store in your hippocampus. Same with an olympic weightlifter, they can have the correct posture, flexbility, and anatomical proportions but their cerebellum doesn't have all the contentful gravitational information needed to fine tune the muscular contractions unless they've had enough time under tension which is the practice part.
 
  • #11
chiro
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Some very great ideas in here.

One bit of advice I would give is to be curious. Be curious about every result, interpretation, visualization and so on about every result. Like another poster mentioned, don't take anything for granted: if it doesn't make sense to you either logically or intuitively, then ask someone who can express this with clarity (like say a Professor).

Stay hungry and your feast will await you.
 

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