By William J. Owen
Program Director for Mathematics, American Public University
Oh, no! I have to take a college math course!
“I’m not good at math.” …. “I don’t like math.” …. “I’ve never been good at it.” ….. “No one in my family has ever done well in math.”…. “I’m too old to take math.” ….. “Math takes too much time.” “I never used math and don’t expect I ever will use it.”
These are some typical reactions from many working adults when they get the news that they need to take a mathematics or statistics course as part of their degree programs. It’s really devastating news for many working adult students and they come up with a lot of reasons to fail. Typically, the reasons are very personal and negative. While the students might arrive in a mathematics course with negative attitudes and perceptions, it is possible to overcome them and succeed in the course.
I’ve found that there are several ways to find success in taking a college math course. I’ll address three of those and provide some tips for math success for busy, working adults.
One of the first and most important tips is to think positively. Try to turn those negative perceptions into positive ones. This may be easy to say, but it’s really challenging to change years of negative thinking. At home and work, you focus on positive accomplishments. As you prepare for a math course, you need to adopt that same success-oriented attitude.
Sometimes your self-talk is your greatest obstacle to succeeding in mathematics. If you continually tell yourself that you can’t do mathematics, then you probably will not perform very well. You may have had a bad experience with math courses in the past, but that is the past and you want to succeed now and in the future. Your motivation and mantra needs to focus on being successful. You can do math!
Use all the resources available to help you
A text is one of the key resources you will find in any math course. However, there are plenty of other resources to help you succeed in the course. Your instructor is your first line of help. The instructors are there to help you master the material, answer your questions, and help you through the course. Ask questions when they arise — don’t wait until later. Remember that the material in a math course builds on what you learned earlier. If you don’t understand something now, you may be able to skip it, but it will probably become important later.
In addition to your text and instructor, there are loads of other resources. Some may be provided in your course materials. For example, in math courses at American Public University, the lessons in each of the classrooms point to pertinent short videos that provide short lectures, show you how to work problems, or provide practice problems. Most of our instructors at APU also carefully select great presentations from online sources that will help you master the course material. You can also search on your own for helping online resources. There other resources that you can seek. Think about your family, your friends, your classmates, and your colleagues at work. They may very well be some of your best resources. Ask for help and it may be immediately available from them.
Manage your time for success
As a busy working adult fitting everything into your day is always a challenge. With your job, your family, your hobbies, and your school activities you have a full schedule. Finding the time to care for each of those aspects of your life is important. There isn’t an easy answer as to how you can manage your time to accomplish everything that you want or need to do. However, time may be your most valuable resource to succeed in a math course. My most successful students plan their days carefully and reserve a special quiet time to study; not big chunks of time, but short concentrated times to read, re-read, and practice separate topics. They don’t try to work through an entire chapter or section. They take specific topics and try to master just one topic at a time.
Finding short concentrated study times and reserving time for them is the critical part. They occur at any time that fits into your busy daily schedule. You might want to think about early morning before your workday, lunchtime, breaks during your workday, or a quiet time each night. Finding those study times and using them can be the key to your success in the math course.
There are other very specific tips for success that our instructors will provide when you are in math courses, but for now, consider the three tips. Think positively, use all your available resources, and manage your time for success!
About the Author:
As an adult educator, Mr. Owen’s focus is on the use of sound analytical and managerial techniques to solve complex business and management issues. For the past four years he has served as the Program Director for the Mathematics Department, School of Science and Technology at American Public University System. He has a Master of Education in from the University of Oklahoma, he’s attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and he has a Master of Science in Operations Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology.