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Math Is Hard! Tips From A Houston Math Tutor

Do any students actually enjoy math? (I do, but I'm a proud nerd.)

I get it. Math is a hard subject! People who say that math is like its own language are right. You've got weird symbols strewn everywhere, complex numbers, and-- once you reach an upper level math class-- math functions start to use more letters than numbers. It's no wonder why so many people are confused by their math homework.

But have no fear! I've got a few helpful websites and pro-tips to help you out.

  1. Paul's Online Math Notes. This website is amazing. Not only does it include notes from a wide range of math subjects (from algebra to advanced calculus, this site has it all!), but each lesson is full of examples and easy-to-understand explanations. Additionally, the site links you to previous lessons you might want to review prior to starting the new lesson (just in case you forgot something!). The website is also easy to navigate, complete with a table of contents so that you know exactly where to find the notes you need. Plus, Paul's Online Math Notes also include "cheat sheets" with common algebra, trigonometric, and calculus functions and rules that you should memorize. This way, everything you need is in one place!

  2. In case you're unaware of this miracle website, let me introduce you to WolframAlpha. Too often I've had students tell me that they didn't do their homework or assignments because they "didn't have/broke/lost their calculator." That excuse won't work anymore! WolframAlpha works better than your average TI graphing calculator. It can graph functions, solve equations, do matrix algebra, solve complex calculus functions, and more! Not to mention that WolframAlpha does include step-by-step solution guides if you subscribe to their Pro services (or you can sign up for a free trial and test it out before subscribing!). A word of caution: while WolframAlpha is a great supplementary tool for doing math homework or learning math concepts, I wouldn't grow too reliant on it. You won't be able to access WolframAlpha during a test or quiz!

  3. DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WORK. It's great if you're super careful the first time answering a problem, but we're all human! Mistakes will happen. Double checking your work ensures that you won't lose any points because of carelessness (I know I've lost many points on my homeworks before because I left off a negative sign). Here are some common mistakes to watch out for:
    - Are your signs correct? Is your answer supposed to be a positive number or negative number?
    - Did you follow the order of operations? If not, you might have a wrong answer!
    - Are your units correct? 1 gallon of water plus 1 pint of water doesn't equal 2! Cos(5) equals different values for 5 radians and 5 degrees! Make sure your units match up.
  4. Continue working out problems! If you don't quite understand a concept yet, continue doing practice problems! The more problems you work out, the more confident you'll feel about your abilities (and the more natural it'll feel when you solve further similar problems). It's okay if you get some practice problems wrong, too! Just be sure to go back and figure out why you made a mistake-- that way you know not to do the same thing in the future! Understanding math concepts takes time and practice (think of it like a sport!), the more effort you put into practicing, the easier it will be.

  5. DRAW DIAGRAMS. You don't have to be an artist, and these diagrams definitely shouldn't be any fancy pictures. Drawing diagrams helps, especially if you're a visual learner! Drawing your own diagram allows you to label necessary areas and draw additional lines wherever you need them! This helps clarify complex problems and lets you break down what you need to solve for! So when in doubt, always draw a diagram.
Trust me, I wish there was a magic potion you could take to become a math genius overnight. I really do. Unfortunately, like most things in the world, understanding math concepts takes time and effort. Hopefully, however, these five bullet points lets you know that you're not alone in your struggle and gives you an idea of what to watch out for. Just take your time and take a deep breath. You've got this. 
Amanda Y
Jack of All Trades Tutor
Rice University
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