Math is all around us. The discovery and application of mathematical principles is largely what has allowed humans to send messages across the globe in a second, travel to outer space, and--perhaps most importantly--program a coffee maker to have coffee ready for us before we get out of bed. But math doesn’t come naturally or easily to everyone (this writer included!). In fact, 93% of American adults report experiencing math anxiety (Blazer, 2011).
Taking an online math course from the comfort of your own home can be a great way to sharpen your skills and reduce your math anxiety. However, knowing what to expect and setting up a plan to build the skills you will need to develop is essential to your success.
Build a Strong Foundation
Most colleges require their students to take a placement test to determine the appropriate math course for them. That’s because it’s important that students start where they feel comfortable and prepared; if you haven’t mastered algebra, taking a more advanced pre-calculus course probably isn’t a good idea. While it can be tempting to try to take the highest level of math your degree program requires first, you should make sure that you have a good foundation. For example, while StraighterLine’s College Algebra course may transfer to your school as your math credit, if it’s been a while since you took algebra, or if it’s a course you’ve struggled with in the past, you may want to consider taking Introductory Algebra first to brush up on your skills.
Take the Time You Need
While taking one of StraighterLine’s online math courses allows you to work at your own pace and at times that are convenient for you, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will take you less time overall than a traditional course would. You should plan to spend about 75 hours of study time on learning the material; that means that if you’re taking a course with fifteen topics, you should allow yourself to take 4-6 hours per topic.
If you know that you need to complete your course by a certain date, pull out a calendar and schedule the necessary study time you’ll need to finish the course. If you get through the material faster than you thought you would, that’s a bonus!
Use Course Tools and Resources
StraighterLine’s math courses offer lots of support, so make the most of what’s available to you! In courses like College Algebra, you can watch explanatory videos as many times as you need to, and you can follow recommended links to helpful online resources. If you’re taking Introduction to Statistics, pay special attention to the “Learn by Doing” and “Did I Get This?” exercises. Mastering practice questions will ensure that you’re ready to work through similar problems on your exams. Free tutoring is available, so whether you’re struggling with a whole concept or just one problem, give it a try! Tutors are professional, patient, and ready to help.
Prepare for Your Exams
Your StraighterLine math exams (including the final) will be multiple choice, but you should be ready to solve problems on your own piece of paper. Math exams are designed to ensure that you’re able to demonstrate the concepts you learned in the course, so be prepared to identify and apply those concepts to solve a variety of problem types, including equations and word problems.
For example, in algebra or calculus courses you may be asked to apply formulas to solve problems, or you may need to graph functions. In statistics courses, you may be asked to determine confidence intervals or decide whether a finding is statistically significant. Only schedule your exam once you feel you’ve mastered the practice problems, and schedule your exam for a day and time when you’re likely to be feeling well-rested and relaxed. (Check out our other tips for acing your online exam!)
As you work through your online math course, it might help to remember that learning math can be like learning a new language. Some people pick up languages seemingly effortlessly, while others struggle to remember and pronounce even basic words. But, once you’ve mastered a language, the reward is immense--you can interact with people, places, and ideas in a way you wouldn’t have been able to before.
Honing your math skills can not only help you earn your degree, but it can also help you understand more about the world around you. And that’s something definitely worth studying!
Blazer, C. (2011). Strategies for Reducing Math Anxiety. Information Capsule. Volume 1102. Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom.