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How to improve grades? Math major

  1. Aug 5, 2014 #1
    It seems like I am stuck with making B's in all my classes except for a select few I get an A or an A minus in.

    In pre calculus and now in Calculus neither of the professors allow for plus or minus grades and I keep getting in the 87-89% range for these classes and I am leaving with a B in the class for a 3.0

    I am trying to improve my grades, I do all the homework and I even take medicine for anxiety.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2014 #2


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    Homework Helper

    Assuming you are scoring 100% or close to that on the homework, you can only be losing marks in these ways:

    1) Not understanding the material soon enough to fully perform on the minor tests.
    2) Not understanding the material soon enough to be fully able to study for the major tests.
    3) Anxiety related loss of performance (mistakes, forgetting what you know, etc).
    4) Exams/tests being set at high levels of difficulty, making errors or anxiety more likely.

    Ok, for #1, this is about how much understanding you have when you have completed the homework. Doing the homework but not completely understanding is very bad. Ideally, you will get theunderstanding and then do the homework, but sometimes there isn't enough time. But then, it is VERY important to get the understanding a soon as possible, ideally within 2 days of submitting the homework. Understanding is everything, my friend.

    For #2, this is the typical Friday or 2-weekly test. Many, many people lose marks on these tests, they don't take them seriously because they don't count for much, perhaps 10% of the grade, but think, scoring 60% here gives you a maximum possible of 94% and you are trying to hit 90%, not much leeway. Again it is about understanding, getting understanding soon so that when you study for these, you can cover all bases and be ready.

    For #3, there are two parts to this. Forgetting things is a problem that can be fixed either through practice or with memory aids. You should always practice two days before the test so that on the final day you can focus on more difficult problems or more tricky concepts. The final day is there to hone things and practice more advanced stuff.

    By memory aids, I mean rhymes: take the first letters and devise a rhyme to remember them, or draw a mind-map with all the concepts linked together to make it easier to see them all at once. Then practice writing down from memory the things you want to remember. If every time you feel anxious, you can read to yourself the facts you need to remember, your anxiety should be greatly reduced.

    For #4, this is all about going beyond what you learned in class. Examiners like to put tricky questions into final exams. Usually about 80% of the final will be straightforward but there will be some tricky questions to catch out those with good habits but not good understanding. Usually these tricks will be covered in your textbook but not in class, they will be the more difficult problems in the book. So what you want to do is attempt all or most of the more difficult problems in the book. Get that advanced perspective so that when you see a more difficult question in the exam, your anxiety is abated because it is similar to a more difficult question in the textbook.

    Also don't be fooled by review questions. Some lecturers will hand out exam-review questions or past exams for practice. The review questions will be quite a lot easier than the exam questions will be, try not to be confident because you found the review questions easy. Then also, the past exam will have more tricky questions but they will be unrelated to your exam's questions. So that can also be misleading. Try not to assume that, because you found a particular section's questions easy, that your exam will have easy questions for that section. It may very well happen that the lecturer sets more difficult questions because it sticks in their mind that that section was too easy before.

    And hopefully then, when you get to the exam, you won't be too anxious: you are not riding on false confidence from the review stage, ready to get shot down when you see some questions that aren't what you expected; you are not falsely confident because you found the homework or the tests easy; but you have some real confidence to rely on because you did the difficult problems in the book and are ready for anything that comes.
  4. Aug 5, 2014 #3
    I appreciate your post quite a bit. I seem to be suffering mostly with the third area of anxiety. Today I had a test that I think I got a solid B on and he did pass out a exam from last year. I was able to rock it easy. No problems at all. Was even more difficult than today's. But today I was presented with taking the integral of cosx/sinx and I blanked and couldn't see it was a ln(sin) until after the test.

    I get very depressed about this because I know I can do so much better but my grades are showing me I am lacking. My doctor said that true anxiety that I would be getting over heated ( I do a little) and be sweating, but I don't a ton more than normal. It just feels at the time that the question is something I have never seen.
  5. Aug 5, 2014 #4


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    Have you learned integration by parts? It needs one to write the integral as ##\int u \; dv##. In trying to change it to that form, you would have seen the answer.

    If you haven't learned it, learn it now so that next time you'll be ready.
  6. Aug 5, 2014 #5
    We have learned it, I guess my problem was not knowing which one to use for the u, so then I blanked and then was just guessing random functions and taking the derivative to see if it would give me it. This is a summer courses as well, so I guess it is a bit of my fault doing that to myself. But it just seems like with any class I take I can't get past that B grading.
  7. Aug 5, 2014 #6
    I don't have much energy/time for a good answer here, but I will share one tip. Whenever I have some kind of interview or exam to prepare for, I try to get some serious exercise before I go. This sort of thing has been proven to work in studies.
  8. Aug 5, 2014 #7


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    Gold Member

    Maybe you are doing better than you believe; otherwise, maybe you can choose a different major field, but include mathematics as either a minor or double major. As long as you are learning, and not getting any D or F in any mathematics, you are doing fine - maybe better than most.
  9. Aug 5, 2014 #8
    I once had a calculus professor that liked the median score of his tests to be 30%. A student's final grade was determined by his or her ranking among the students.

    The first few weeks screwed with my mind so much. I then shutoff all emotions and took the tests as if I was filling in a crossword puzzle. I think this is the proper frame of mind you need in order to do well on any test.

    1) most of the time, you won't get every answer right
    2) know that since you learned some of the techniques very well, you will get a few answers right or partial credit on some questions.
    3) most of the time, there exists a student doing better and a different student doing worse than you on coursework.

    The key to maximizing your score is to understand the material. Ask questions in class. Ask questions at a tutoring center (if there is one). Master the homework exercises.
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