Are you Ready for College Math?

For some students, the scariest thing about coming to college is taking College Math.  “I’ve always received all A’s and B’s in everything, except math.”  “I was really good in math until 8th grade.  The teacher that year was terrible, and after that I never did well.” “I just plain hate math.” I think I have heard it all. Why do students find math so difficult?  There are numerous reasons. I have a lot of my own theories that I would love to share with you some other time.  For now, I will emphasize one in particular:  One reason why students find math more difficult than other courses is because, more that in any other subject, every new skill builds on prerequisite skills.  If you are missing a concept that is key to a new skill, no amount of effort or studying will enable you to learn the new skill.

Are you one of those students who are worried about your first math course here?  If so, I would expect you to have two questions.  One – do I have the skills I need to be successful in this course?  Two – if I do not have the prerequisite skills, what can I do about it?  I hope to answer both of those questions.

Obviously (although that is not a very good word to use when speaking about math), the math you need in order to be ready for your college math course completely depends on the particular course. 

If you placed into MATH-099, Fundamentals of College Mathematics, there is very little that your professor will assume that you already know, besides maybe the multiplication tables.   The course starts at the very beginning, with addition and subtraction of signed (positive/negative) numbers, and fractions.  HOWEVER, it will move VERY QUICKLY!  It could be called All of Grade School Math and All of Middle School Math, and Two Years of High School Math in Fourteen Weeks.  It is ESSENTIAL that you attend every class, work all of the problem sets that are assigned, and go for help at the Learning and Advising Center  (call (215)951-2799) AS SOON AS you get to problems that you find challenging. 

If you will be taking MATH-102, Pre-Calculus in the fall, there will be many concepts that your professor will assume you already grasp.  Signed arithmetic (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing positive and negative numbers and fractions) will be covered in 15 minutes, if at all.  Operations on polynomials and rational expressions will probably be covered quickly in class, with the assumption that you are familiar with them already.  It will also be assumed that you have solved equations, simplified radicals, and worked with fractional and negative exponents.  If you found any of the above challenging in high school, start getting help right away, with the first or second problem set.

You can get free, individual tutoring and group tutoring at the Learning and Advising Center (215)951-2799.  I will also hold weekly review sessions, Thursdays 12-1, starting September 2nd.  (Call the Learning and Advising Center for the room.)

Even though Finite Mathematics (MATH-100 or MATH-101) is given a lower number, it is NOT a lower level course than Pre-Calculus.  It is the same level.  Students are told to take one or the other on the basis of their major, not their test scores. So if you are registered for Finite Mathematics, and you feel as if your algebra skills are weak, come immediately to the Learning and Advising Center to make an appointment, and come to my weekly review sessions on Thursdays from 11 – 12.    

The background that your professor will assume that you have for MATH-110 (Pre-Calculus for Science and Engineering) is about the same as the background required for the other Pre-Calculus class (MATH-102).  However, this class moves even more quickly, covering topics in greater depth.  Please come for help the moment it starts to seem unfamiliar.

If you were told to start off taking MATH-111, Calculus I in the fall, all of the topics I mentioned above are topics you must know well.  In addition, you must be comfortable with function notation, trigonometry, and the graphs of many basic functions (without using a graphing calculator).  I will be holding weekly review sessions for Calculus I on Tuesdays from 12 – 1.  And, of course, as I have repeatedly written, you can also come to the Learning and Advising Center to see me (Ellen Knapp), the other professional math tutor, or a peer tutor.

Get yourself ready.  You can succeed in math.