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HOW TO STUDY

MATHEMATICS
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO
GETTING AWESOME GRADES

ashleigh-studies.tumblr.com
Contents

Introduction 3

Being an effective student 4

Mathematics class guide 9

Studying mathematics 12

Tests and exams 15

Mathematics resources 21

Conclusion 23
Printable cheat sheet 24

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Introduction

Hi, I’m Ashleigh! I’m a recent mathematics and statistics graduate in Aus-
tralia and now I’m working in that space. I didn’t always want to study
maths (read: I despised it), but that was before I found out what maths
really is. In the school curriculum you rarely come across things that are
interesting in mathematics classes, and high school teachers are mostly un-
aware of things like fractals and the Banach-Tarski Paradox. This subject
is not about memorising your times tables or being able to add numbers
quickly (I can barely do either), it’s about learning how and why something
works, and that can be both challenging and exciting!
I started my Tumblr blog @ashleigh-studies in January 2016 to share the
things I learnt through studying maths, as well as feed my love of cute sta-
tionery. Head to ashleigh-studies.tumblr.com/original-content if you want to
find links to my original blog posts, which include more maths tips, general
study tips, printables and more.
In this book I will start off by giving you some tips on being an effective
student. Then we will go on to how to study maths in particular, with
some advice for tackling homework and preparing for tests. At the end you
will find a cheat sheet with an overview of the tips covered here for easy
reference.
Don’t forget to check out my blog for more mathematics and study tips
or to ask me questions!

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Being an effective student

Before we dive right into maths-specific skills, it’s worthwhile covering a few
things about studying in general. It would be difficult to excel at mathe-
matics without knowing the basic study techniques!

Improve your study habits


Have a dedicated study place and time
Choose a spot that you like to study in and stick to it. This can be at home,
in a library, or wherever you feel comfortable. Make sure it has enough
lighting, is quiet, and has minimal distractions. Study here at a specific
time every day, or every few days, depending on your schedule. If you know
you work better in the morning, use that to your advantage and schedule
your study sessions earlier in the day. If you’re a night owl, plan accordingly.

Stay up to date
Easier said than done, but if you’re falling behind you will become more
stressed and find it difficult to focus. If you’re having trouble staying up to
date, review your schedule and find out why. Do you have too many other
commitments, or are you frequently procrastinating? Figure out what it is
and develop strategies to fix the issue.

Review your class material


You probably take notes during class, but how often do you review those
notes? You might also only read through a textbook chapter once, and
then forget about the textbook completely. Take some extra time to skim
through your notes or important concepts in the textbook at least once a
week to keep it fresh in your mind.
Each week do one or two problems from each topic you have studied this
semester. This will keep them fresh in your mind so during exam period you
won’t realize that you have forgotten everything and go into a mad panic.

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Set SMART goals
If you’re actively working towards a goal, you’re likely to see better results.
Set a goal for the grade you want to achieve at the end of the semester, for a
specific test, for improving your knowledge in a particular topic, etc. Make
sure the goal satisfies the SMART criteria:

Specific: Who, what, when, where, which, why?


Measurable: How will you know when you’ve completed the goal?
Achievable: Is it possible to complete this goal?
Relevant: Does this goal align with you other objectives?
Time-bound: Can the goal be completed within the time available?

Use your travel time!


If you take the bus or train to class, use that time to read over notes and
example questions or read ahead in your textbook.

Planning and organisation


I’m one of those strange (or awesome?) people that consider planning things
as a fun activity. This means that I’ve tried a ton of different paper planners
and way too many digital tools and apps.
Firstly, having the nicest or most expensive planning tool will not make
you a better student. Rather, it is the systems you put in place that will
decide your planning effectiveness, the tools just make it easier.
If you have never organised in your life, don’t go all out and create a
super complicated colour coding scheme and use literally every app; start
simple or you will likely give up in a few weeks.
Try starting with an app that records your important dates to remember,
or an actual paper planner that you can quickly scribble on to. Make sure
you figure out what kind of tool would suit your needs before you start.

Physical planners
• Kikki-K

• Bullet journals

• Muji

• Moleskine

• Passion planner

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Phone apps
• any.do
• Todoist
• Wunderlist
• Remember The Milk
• Plan
• Evernote
• SolCalendar

Web apps
• Momentum
• Lanes
• Plan
• Google Calendar

Organising your assignments


While I was at uni I recorded all my assignment due dates and important test
dates in OneNote and ordered them by date. This was fantastic because on
any given day I could see what was due and what was coming up, so I could
plan accordingly. When you’re deciding what to use to organise yourself
for classes, I’d strongly recommend choosing something that lets you see
everything at a glance, even if it is just a yearly calendar on your wall or a
front dashboard page in a planner.

Procrastination
When things require effort, aren’t very well defined, or we simply cant be
bothered, we often resort to procrastination. Below I’ve outlined some tips
on how to avoid or reduce your procrastination.

Define the task


Sometimes we avoid a task because we are unsure on what to do next. Try
breaking a larger task down into actionable chunks. For example, if you
have to study for an exam you could break it down and set your next task
to something like complete every second question from chapter 2 between
12:30pm and 1:30pm.

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Set time for ’busy work’
I like to procrastinate by buying too much stationery and sorting out my
planning tools. This feels like it is productive but I’m wasting so much time
trying to perfect my systems! If you procrastinate by doing work that seems
productive but really isn’t, don’t try to remove it completely, set a dedicated
time of 1 hour or less per week for it. If it really isn’t important you might
find that 1 hour being used productively instead!

Remove all distractions


Choose a space that you will study in, preferably near a natural light source.
If you procrastinate by using your phone, put it in a different room. If
you need to study on the computer, there are plenty of apps that block
distractions.

• Freedom
• SelfControl
• Cold Turkey

Study alone
Studying with friends can be useful, and I’m not saying never do it, but
how many times have you gotten together with friends with the intention
of studying and ended up putting it all off to chat/take an extra-long snack
break/do ANYTHING else? Studying by yourself allows you to take control
and be responsible for your own learning. Try studying by yourself first and
getting together with a study group later to quiz each other on what you’ve
learned.

Keep a notebook
Do you ever start studying and then remember you need to search for some-
thing or reply to an email or perform some other miscellaneous task? And
then as soon as you think of it you can’t focus because you’re worried you
will forget the task, so you HAVE to do it now? Instead of dropping every-
thing to do it, write it down in an easily accessible notebook and do it when
you finish studying for the day.

Set goals
What do you want to achieve today? Break your daily goal into smaller tasks
that need to be completed. Make an action plan to help yourself complete
the goals and reward yourself for your accomplishments. Working towards
something is a great way to minimize distractions and get more done.

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Break study time into smaller chunks
Set a timer at a small amount of time, anywhere between 25 and 50 minutes.
Force yourself to study for the whole session. When you’re done, watch cat
videos, browse Tumblr, do whatever you want for 5-10 minutes. Then reset
your timer and start again. If you do this for a while and it works for you,
gradually increase your study blocks. Be disciplined!

Start NOW
Sometimes all it takes is to start a task you’ve been procrastinating on. Lit-
erally just work on it for one minute and you will probably end up finishing
it or get most of it done.

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Mathematics class guide

Before class
Try to complete a couple of questions from the previous class and skim
read your notes. If you have access to the materials for the next class, try
attempting at least one question from the current topic before you arrive at
class.
By doing this, you will know what kind of questions you need to ask
about the previous topic, and will have some sort of idea about what’s
going on in the current class.
If you haven’t already, try stay up to date with your studying/homework
because you will be in a much better place to follow along in your next class.

During class
I generally struggled to pay attention in classes. Something about sitting
in a lecture theatre or classroom with someone talking non-stop for an hour
usually puts me to sleep. I am in no way advising you to skip classes though
they are essential to getting good grades. Try some of the following before
you even think about taking a nap:

Take notes
While you’re listening to someone talking about a particular topic it is easy
to trick yourself into thinking that you’re taking it all in and you will re-
member it all later. Yes, you might remember some of the content, but will
easily forget crucial parts. Write. Some. Notes. This is especially important
if your classes aren’t recorded and you wont have a chance to review them
again. Not only does it help you learn the content, but it helps you stay
awake in class! For maths in particular, don’t be tempted to just write down
the important formulas. Note down why the formula is important, what’s
it’s used for etc.

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Pay attention
It’s not enough to just turn up to class and hope you soak up all the informa-
tion like a sponge. To get the most out of a class you need to listen actively.
This means really concentrating on understanding what is going on. This
can be done by jotting down notes, asking questions and participating. Try
to summarise what your teacher has said to confirm your understanding.

Figure out the important information


Unfortunately, not everything that is covered in class is relevant. You might
be given some background information on a historical figure like Isaac New-
ton or Einstein, but it’s unlikely you’ll be tested on this. Sort through the
class material and figure out which information is the most significant, these
might be terms that are underlined or formulas that are spoken about fre-
quently. Make sure you highlight these in your notes and pay more attention
to these.

Learn it once
One of my lecturers at uni said something once that stuck with me for the
rest of my degree. Why spend time reading things over and over when
we can just learn it once deeply and be done with it? We waste so much
time half-reading and re-reading the same material without really trying to
understand it deeply. For the next topic you study, I challenge you to put
all of your effort and focus into trying to grasp the concepts deeply in the
first go. Really read through the material and try to understand what it all
means and how it fits together. It will take longer than usual to study this
way, but a deep understanding will help you in the short and long term.

After class
Brief review
In order to maximise your grade, you need to put in a bit of work after each
class. I like to summarise and briefly review my notes as soon as possible
after a class. This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour
depending on the difficulty. If the topic is hard, open up your textbook to
the relevant chapter and add explanatory information to your notes so you
have a more comprehensive view. Make sure you summarise things in your
own words, this make sure you have a thorough understanding.

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Complete assigned questions
If you’re given optional questions in class, DO THEM!! Your teacher or
lecturer gives these questions to help you understand the content. If you’re
unable to complete them, you might not have sufficient knowledge of the
topic and need to do some extra study.
Make sure you finish off any questions in problem sets or homework
assignments you’re given in class. If you get stuck on a particular question,
try searching through your textbook or Google for a similar example.

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Studying mathematics

Change your mindset


You might not enjoy maths as much as I do (or maybe you love it more?)
but it is a subject that anyone can succeed in with practice.
A common misconception is that some people are born to do well in
maths. While it might be true that some people understand mathematics
more quickly than others, it doesn’t mean that everyone else is doomed to
fail.
Something else you might not realise is that even the top-performing
students could be struggling. I was one of the highest scoring students in
maths at high school. To others it may have seemed like I found it all easy,
but truthfully I didn’t find it easy at all. In order to succeed I would put in
hours and hours of effort, filled with lots of frustration!

Forget about memorisation


Maths is different to most other subjects. You don’t need to read/memorize
many things, so don’t waste time rewriting notes or trying to cram every
definition into your brain! The only real way to learn maths is to do math,
so take out your notebook and do some questions until you start getting
them right!

Stop getting angry at ’useless’ topics


Accept that some of the things you learn, you will never need again, and
that’s okay. Mathematics is not always about the topics, but learning to
think in a different way. You might never need to solve a differential equation
in your real life, but being able to think analytically is a really useful tool.

Others succeeding is proof you can do it too


It can be frustrating to see other people understanding something that you’re
having trouble with. You might think only people smarter than me can
understand this. This is so not true! Instead, try to change your point
of view. Since some of your peers can understand this, then solving this

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problem or understanding this particular concept is not impossible. Ask
them what they did to get where they are, or study a little harder - you can
do it!

Getting stuck
Sometimes we sit down with the best intentions, but then realise we have
been trying to solve something for 20 minutes with no luck. What should
you do?

Re-read the question


Make sure you fully understand what the question is asking. Write down or
highlight key points if the question is particularly wordy. Get clarification
if you are still unsure what the question needs you to do.

Find similar examples


Doing questions from a textbook? Usually there will be similar worked
examples - read them! Look through your class notes to see if anything
similar was covered in class. If you are lucky enough to find a similar example
but it still doesn’t make sense, try working through it backwards. Look at
the answer and try to see how the step directly beforehand leads to that
answer. By reverse-engineering it you might be able to figure it out!

Five more minutes


Still no luck? Don’t give up just yet! Try the question again for at least 5
minutes.
Set a timer to exactly 5 minutes and give it your best shot. Five minutes
is not much time - but if you spend much longer you might not be productive
and end up giving up.

Ask Dr Google
Try searching for the topic or concept you’re studying. Websites like Khan
Academy or Wolfram Alpha might also be able to help with this. You can
do practice problems on Khan Academy from tons of different maths topics.

Sleep on it
This seemed to work for me a lot in high school. If there was a problem I
was really stuck on and I didn’t want to give up I would attempt it right
before bed and if I still couldn’t figure it out I would go to sleep. A lot of

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the time I would wake up with a new way of approaching the problem and
manage to find the correct answer :-)
This doesn’t just work for sleep. Try doing something else for a while and
come back to the problem later. Sometimes it just takes a fresh perspective
on the problem to solve it.

Ask for help


You might want to solve every problem by yourself. Personally I hated
asking for help, but you will not be very productive if you spend all your
time on a small number of problems with no success. If all else fails, ask for
help!

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Tests and exams

How to prepare
The best piece of advice I was given was to focus on the main topics when
studying for exams. If you spent 10 lectures focusing on topic 1 and 1
lecture focusing on topic 2, you know that the exam will have more questions
relating to topic 1, so make sure you understand it!

Practice exams
Do as many practice exams and quizzes as you can get your hands on. This
will help you understand what your strengths are and what you need to
dedicate more time too.
After doing a practice exam, mark it and then make a list of all the
questions you got wrong. Go away and study these topics and then do
another practice exam. Repeat until you feel confident!
Once you head into the exam/test room and see your paper, you won’t
be as stressed because you’ve seen these before and are ready for it!

Revise regularly
If you know you have a test coming up soon, start by doing a couple of
questions each day to keep the topic fresh in your mind. As a bonus this
reduces test panic :-)

Do practice questions
I’ve said this before but YOU LEARN MATHS BY DOING PROBLEMS!
Start by reworking through examples from class and the examples in your
textbook. Don’t look at the solution until you actually attempt the question,
that way you can identify the areas you need to improve on.

Make a cheat sheet


This is my personal favourite. Even if you aren’t allowed to bring it into
the test, a cheat sheet allows you to study AND helps you figure out which

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areas are the most important for the test - i.e. what you should spend the
most time studying.
Basically go through your notes/textbook and write down the main top-
ics, and fill in anything that you think is important, or anything that is
highlighted/bolded/etc. Try to fit this all onto one page - it really forces
you to consider what is important and what the minor details are. If it
works better for you, try making mind map instead.

Use feedback from practice quizzes and past homework


If you have access to practice tests, do them and get them graded, or grade
them yourself if you also have the solutions. Go through your past homework
problems and tests and sift through the feedback. This will show you the
areas you need to focus on, and you might notice that you make the same
small mistakes over and over again. Make a conscious effort to fix this!

The art of cramming


We aren’t always perfect and sometimes (or most of the time) we leave things
until the last minute and go into a mad panic. Don’t stress, you can still
save your grade! Start by making a cheat sheet, as described in the previous
section. This helps you identify the most important topics or sections so
you know what to spend the most time studying. You might also like to try
flashcards, mnemonics, and quizzing yourself.

Prepare flashcards
Maths is different to other subjects in that you don’t usually have to mem-
orise many things. It is more important to know how and why something
works, rather than just reciting something word for word. There are some
exceptions to this though, and flashcards can be a good way to remember
any important definitions or theorems if your teacher has specifically said
you need to remember them by heart.
Write your important term or word on one side of a card and then put a
short description (or a formula!) on the other side. The key here is to test
yourself. When you’re studying the cards don’t look at the answer before
you’ve put some thought into the answer. Either say it out loud or write it
down before you double check, otherwise you’re tempted into thinking oh
I definitely would have written that part on the test when in actual fact
you’re just seeing something you had forgotten.
When you’re going through the flashcards, put the difficult ones in a
separate pile to review more frequently, there is no point reviewing things
you find easy.

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Quiz yourself
This is a really effective way to learn in a short period of time. If you don’t
have access to past tests, you can easily make your own. Look through your
textbook or notes and find things that you think could be asked on the test.
Then turn these into questions and make your own quiz papers.
Do one test, grade it and identify where you can improve. Then study
these areas and take another test. Rinse and repeat!
If you are having particular difficulties with one area, include variations
of the same questions in your next tests so you can continue practising.

Review before the test


Whoever said it is bad to study right before a test is a total liar. If you
have half an hour to spare beforehand, test yourself with some flashcards,
or review your cheat sheet. Don’t go over anything new, just focus on
remembering the things you covered the night before.
If there was a particular definition you really struggled with, read that
right before you start the test and write it down as soon as you are allowed
to pick up your pen.

Test taking
Brain dump
If you are the type of person who forgets everything during the test, re-
view your notes right before your test and write down everything you can
remember when your test starts.

Stick to the time limit


If you have 1 hour to do 10 questions, allow yourself a maximum of 6 minutes
per question (assuming they are all worth the same number of marks). If
you haven’t finished the question by then, move on to the next one. If you
have extra time at the end, go back and attempt the unfinished questions.

Order doesn’t matter


Unless you have sub-questions which depend on the answers to the previous
questions, it doesn’t matter what order you do the test in. If you think the
last question is the easiest, start with that one to maximize your marks.

Check your answers


I actually hated doing this, but when I went through my tests at the end I
almost always found stupid errors like 5+3 = 7 (yes, even in 3rd year uni

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maths). If you have time, always go through the answers, because the worst
thing is getting your test back and realizing that you lost a few percentage
points because you screwed up something you learnt in second grade.

Breathe
Maths isn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be, especially if you have
put in a lot of hard work and understand the underlying concepts. Take a
deep breath and get that A ;)

Maths anxiety
For a lot of people, the anxiety of doing maths gets in the way of progress.
If you feel that it’s too far out of your reach, or you’re not smart enough,
it’s going to be almost impossible to improve. This is really common - you
are definitely not alone if you feel this way. But it doesn’t have to be like
this!

Be positive
A lot of what I’ve seen is people saying maths is too hard or I’m not a maths
person. This is absolutely not true. Anyone can succeed in maths, it may
just take a little more effort for some. The next time you sit down to study
maths try using a positive mindset. Write an inspirational quote on the
front of your exercise book if you have to.

Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher/lecturer questions. Ask questions while
you are being taught the content, so you can follow along with the rest of
the class. If you are shy (like me), write down a list of questions you think
of during class, and research the answers or ask friends for help before you
ask your teacher. Finding answers yourself can help you remember later and
give you a better understanding.
While you’re doing practice questions and you come across something
you don’t quite understand, try doing some research, or make yet another
list of questions to ask your teacher. The more questions you find answers to,
the more familiar you become with the subject - making it less intimidating.

Practice
It’s great to have an understanding about the concepts and to follow along
with examples in class, but if you don’t try some problems yourself you will
inevitably freak out when it comes to test time.

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Reduce your stress by practising questions from homework assignments
or straight out of the textbook. Repeat the same questions over and over
again until you’ve mastered it. Make sure you also try some of the extended
or more difficult questions at the end of each problem set to make sure you
fully understand the concepts.

Do some reading
Sometimes listening in class and taking notes isn’t enough - you may need
to do your own research. If you have a textbook, try reading the relevant
chapter to the topic you’re studying. You’d be surprised how many people
don’t do this.
Maths textbooks are different to your standard textbooks; it might take
you 15 minutes or more to understand everything on one page. This isn’t
a race, take your time and really try to understand what the textbook is
saying and then applying it in some practice questions. Google any terms
you are unfamiliar with.

Avoid cramming like the plague


If you’re the kind of person that freaks out before/during a maths test or
exam - do not wait until the last minute to study!!! To really avoid putting
this stress on yourself start studying a week before a text, or at least two
weeks for a bigger exam. Inevitably you will start studying and freak out
at the amount of stuff you don’t quite understand yet. This is okay! Break
up your studying into sizeable chunks and take your time working through
practice problems and reading through relevant textbook chapters and notes.

Do the easy questions first


Whether you’re studying or taking an exam, start with the easy questions
to build up your confidence. If you are studying, finish a few easy questions
and double check your answers to make sure you properly understand the
content before moving on to the next section. Most textbooks will only have
a small increase in difficulty between sections. If you get stuck, re-read the
relevant textbook section or look for some similar examples - YouTube can
really help if you need a deeper explanation.

Take time to actually read the question


When you’re just starting out with a particular question it is easy to glance
at it and think ”oh this one is way too hard for me”. It might have an
intimidating equation or just be particularly wordy. Don’t give up just at a
glance, take some time to actually go through it in detail. Draw a picture if
you need to, or try to see how the question would be solved in a similar way

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to another problem you have solved before. You might need to break it up
into smaller chunks, but the important thing to know is that you can do it.
You aren’t going to be given a question that is completely out of your reach.

Learn from mistakes


When was the last time you actually went through your test/assignment
feedback and studied the things you had trouble with? Probably never. I
hated doing this and would have avoided it at all costs if I could have gotten
away with it. Nobody likes looking at things they got wrong.
Feedback is honestly an amazing tool that so few people take advantage
of. If you did a quiz and someone told you exactly how to improve your
grade in that topic in the final exam - why wouldn’t you listen?
So next time you get some feedback take it seriously and make an effort
to study the things you didn’t score as high on - you won’t regret it.

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Mathematics resources

Apart from your class notes and textbooks, there are tons of places where
you can improve your maths skills for free. Doing some extra research or
using more study materials will help you better understand a particular
concept.

Study notes
• Pauls online math notes
• Sparknotes
• CliffsNotes
• Purplemath
• S.O.S. Math

Homework help
• Wolfram Alpha: This is like a calculator, but better. You can get it
to solve problems for you - awesome for checking your work.
• Khan Academy: This is my absolute favourite. Choose a topic and
Khan Academy will give you tutorials on the subject and a chance to
practice it yourself.
• Microsoft Mathematics: I didn’t find this until after I finished my
studies, but this is a program that can graph things for you and solve
equations step-by-step.
• Math Is Fun: For high school students, this is a great introduction to
algebra, geometry etc. There are great examples and worksheets to go
through too.
• Math.com: This will take you through the basics of a particular topic,
then some more details and examples, and then allow you to try it for
yourself.

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• Reddit learn math thread: Consider asking questions on Reddit if you
get stuck. People who are familiar with the topic will help you out.

YouTube
• Mathologer

• Vsauce

• Numberphile

• 3blue1brown

• Vi Hart

Online courses
• MIT OpenCourseWare

• Khan Academy

• edX

• Coursera

• Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism Maths Puzzles: Cryptarithms,


Symbologies and Secret Codes

• Basic Science: Understanding Numbers

• Cracking Mechanics: Further Maths for Engineers

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Conclusion

I hope you found this guide useful, feel free to contact me or ask me questions
here. Flick to the next page to find a printable cheat sheet with some of the
study tips mentioned in this eBook.
I wish you luck in your current/future mathematics courses!

Other notes
Cover page and ’cheat sheet’ created using Canva. Starry image by Manuel
Will. Document typeset with LATEX.

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HOW TO STUDY
MATHEMATICS
succeed in class

attempt problems so you know what Anyone can


before class questions to ask

focus on important highlighted, bold succeed with


info or frequently
occurring words &
formulas
PRACTICE
do lots of practice instead of
questions memorising
definitions

Memorising
tips for exam preparation
10%

make a cheat sheet


Focus on practice and
understanding instead of
quiz yourself
memorisation

focus on the difficult topics


Practice
90%

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