Undergraduate Handbook

Suggestions for First Year Mathematics Students

These remarks are provided to assist first year students, in making the transition from high school to university. For a student with intellectual curiosity who is determined to work regularly from the beginning of the term, a first year mathematics course can be remarkably rewarding and stimulating. However, the unwary student may fall into difficulties and have a poor experience instead. These notes are intended to help you avoid that.

Developing Work Habits 

In all mathematics courses, the key to success is to develop regular work habits so you do not fall behind. This will ensure that you develop the depth, breadth and maturity of your knowledge.

To do this you should attend lectures and recitations, do assignments and enough extra problems to master the material. If you attend lectures, but don’t do exercises, you may get lulled into a false sense of accomplishment and can expect a rude shock.

In mathematics a thorough knowledge of the previous material is essential to reach an understanding of new material. Hence, falling behind tends to be cumulative and is one of the most frequent causes of failure. Understanding grows with time and experience.

Do not expect to follow the mathematics completely, right away; you will have to think about it, and it may not be until later work is covered that you can appreciate the full significance of earlier material.

Expanding on Known Concepts

Some of the ideas in many first year courses, such as differentiation, have been introduced in high school. This does not mean the course is a review. New and more sophisticated concepts will be introduced and must be mastered at a new and higher level of thoroughness and understanding.

Getting Assistance

If you receive a poor grade on early tests or assignments, that is an important signal that you are not mastering the material at an appropriate level. You can deal with this by working harder and consulting about problems with your TA or instructor.

Professors have regular office hours and are generally willing to meeting with students outside these times by appointment.

It should be emphasized that it is your responsibility to seek help if difficulties arise.

You can also attend the Math Study Hall operated in Hylan 1104 which is open for extended periods and staffed by TAs who will assist you.

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in Lattimore is another great resource.  CETL offers tutoring, study groups, and seminars on study techniques.

Do not delay asking for assistance until the day before the exam. It is impossible to cram mathematics at the last minute. Just as with playing a musical instrument, learning mathematics involves a development of skills and understanding that must be consolidated over a period of time.

Falling Behind

If you find that you are still falling behind after using these resources, talk with your instructor. He or she can advise you whether to transfer to a different sequence. Usually you can do this without penalty.