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Straight B's in math classes.

  1. Nov 27, 2013 #1
    I try extremely hard in my math classes, and I do decently in them, but I would really like to do better. I got a B in calc I, B+ in calc II and III, and a B in discrete math, and at this point it's looking like I will get a B or B- (or maybe even a C+) in linear algebra.

    I always do a lot of practice problems, and I almost always feel comfortable with the material before tests; however, I have NEVER gotten an A on a math exam. Again, almost always in the C+ to B+ range.

    I was wondering if anyone had some words of wisdom for getting math grades from the B range to the A range (for someone who already studies quite a bit for exams). I have my linear algebra final in two weeks, and I need to crush it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2013 #2


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    It's hard to say what you can do to improve your grade without knowing exactly why you miss your goal mark. Are you making a lot of simple mistakes? Are the questions that you get wrong mainly conceptual or problem solving? Are you misquoting or misusing definitions? You need to specify what exactly is hurting your grade before anyone can give you some reasonable advice.
  4. Nov 27, 2013 #3


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    Are you doing math everyday? Or 16 hours on the weekend before exams?
  5. Nov 27, 2013 #4
    Increase the amount of work you do, solve more problems, try Schaum books, do past exam papers, other textbooks. Of course you should analyse what problems you are having, but more work should fix most problems. As it's two weeks to go to linear algebra exam, try "total immersion". Try doing nothing but linear algebra problems, except for eating and sleeping. So get off this forum, stop chatting, and start working!
  6. Nov 28, 2013 #5
    Why? Is it bad?
  7. Nov 28, 2013 #6
    Only doing math a few days before the exam and not doing much else? Yes, it's incredibly bad and it could explain your bad marks. Cramming stuff in your head a few hours before the exam is totally useless. You need to practice math consistently every day. You can never gain a true understanding otherwise.
  8. Nov 28, 2013 #7
    Its certainly not totally useless... But its not good study practice. Teachers want it to be totally useless to cram for a few hours, but its not.
  9. Nov 28, 2013 #8

    The post is about doing math almost every day since the beginning, and still not ending up with good grades. I didn't start this thread but that is exactly the problem with me. I am literally doing math day and night. I find my instructor to be an incredibly amazing teacher, and I try and understand everything that he says. I just can't get it right on the exam. It just doesn't hit me. And I do silly mistakes.
  10. Nov 28, 2013 #9
    But I know a day will come when I will get it right on the exam, it will hit me right, and I won't do silly mistakes. One thing is for sure: I need to persevere.
  11. Nov 28, 2013 #10
    The same thing happens to me in math classes. I do fine on homework and practice problems, but every time there's a test, there's problems on the test that differ from a pattern that we learned in class and in practice problems. We do the practice problems that all follow this pattern, and on the test a wrench is thrown into the works that I wasn't trained to deal with, and end up getting a worse grade. So no matter how much I studied, I could never predict how the problems on the tests would stray from what we were taught to deal with.
  12. Nov 28, 2013 #11


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    The problem lies in this methodology. There is an extent to which pattern recognition is necessary. For example, one should be able to recognize from the problem statement whether a conservation of energy method (or any general energy method regardless of the presence of conserved quantities) or a Newton's 2nd law method is more suitable. The same goes for knowing whether to approach a problem using inertial frames or using non-inertial frames (for example, a problem containing a sphere rolling down an incline that back reacts and accelerates due to the rolling that asks you to find the acceleration of the incline) or even whether to use a Newton's 2nd law approach, conservation of energy and conservation of momentum approach, or a Lagrangian approach (same example as before). In typical electromagnetism problems one should recognize how to setup a coordinate system for a given configuration so as to solve the problem in a tractable manner; this could include knowing whether to use spherical coordinates or cylindrical coordinates, how to orient the axes of the coordinate system, and so on.

    If, on the other hand, you are basically memorizing the entire sequence of steps to a problem in the hopes that you can recreate it in one form or another when given a problem on an exam, then this is just a bad approach to physics and math. It won't always work out to your liking, a fact that should be self-evident really.
  13. Nov 28, 2013 #12
    OK, fair enough. But if you still don't end up with good grades despite doing math every single day and night, then you're doing something wrong. Can you explain what exactly the problem is that you're facing? What kind of mistakes do you make on the exam? Can you give us examples of mistakes?

    Just saying that you get bad grades, doesn't help you much further. You need to find out why you get bad grades and what you can improve. Try to criticize yourself. What didn't you do well?
  14. Nov 29, 2013 #13
    The OP didn't say he worked this hard, he said he studied, "quite a bit", which sounds like "not enough" to me.

    As you missed that, maybe you have a problem reading the question properly. I'm not trying to be funny, I had that problem. So try reading the question slowly, make sure you understand what is being asked for.
  15. Nov 29, 2013 #14
    Most people do the homework and practice problems, so the lecturer has to throw the wrench to distinguish the A students from the pack. You have to go beyond the homework and practice problems, and try problems from every other source you can find. Start with past test and exam papers, then move on to *all* the textbooks recommended by the lecturer, then Schaum books, then scour the library for "similar" books & problems.

    Of course, understanding what you are doing is important, just following a pattern by rote will not work. But even that isn't enough, the wrench might involve knowing a trick that is beyond your best understanding of the basic course material. A Feynman might be able to work out the trick on the spot, the average Joe needs to have encountered the trick, which might be in an obscure textbook on the second shelf of the physics library. Your lecturers, if they are truly dedicated, are trying to find the next Feynman, or at least the next generation of the truly dedicated. To get straight As, you need to master the material, not just do enough to get by. And sticking to one textbook & the set problem sheets is just getting by, and (at best) is a path to getting straight Bs... unless you're Feynman.
  16. Nov 29, 2013 #15
    Actually, I DO have that problem. Anyways, the OP also says he tries extremely hard and does a lot of practice problems. Why is that "not enough" to you?
  17. Nov 29, 2013 #16


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    Why don't YOU start your own thread instead of hijacking this one?
    We were here to discuss this matter with the OP. He obviously hasn’t replied or cared enough to reply to requests for further information, if you want feedback on your problem—start your own thread.
  18. Nov 30, 2013 #17
    He says he works "extremely hard", but then he says he works "quite a bit". This is at least ambiguous, if not contradictory, and certainly unclear. If he writes like this in exams then that might be part of his problem!

    Maybe thinking like a physicist and recording exactly how hard he does work would help. If he works "extremely hard" for an hour, and then watches TV for two hours, then there's a problem!
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