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Step 1: Understand the questionsPercent time spent on this step: 5%
Read through the assignment once it’s released and understand the questions. Read the questions early to prime your brain; too many students start too late.
- For some courses, assignments come out before or as content is covered, so having the questions in your mind as you see the content can help prime you to actively learn the content and will also help you know where to look for relevant material in the lecture notes and/or videos. Active learning of content means you are asking yourself questions as you are learning, actively monitoring your understanding of the topic, and anticipating next steps.
- Read all the questions to estimate the range of tested material, make note of anything you don’t understand. Understanding the question correctly reduces the chance of getting stuck.
The hardest thing being with a mathematician is that they always have problems.
Step 2: Gather materials and reviewPercent time spent on this step: 15%
- Gather required materials (lecture notes and/or videos, textbook sections).
- Study the material (definitions, concepts, solved problems, etc.) until you are familiar with it. Identify connections across concepts/topics and practice additional problems. Regularly reviewing your material will also help you to find relevant information quickly if you get stuck on a question.
Step3: Solve questions and get helpPercent time spent on this step: 70%
Part A: Attempt to solve each question
- Attempt to solve the questions as if it were a test. That is, give yourself a certain amount of time and try to solve all the problems. If you can’t solve one, that is okay, just skip to the next problem. You will come back to it later.
- Rule of thumb for time allocation: one hard question may take significantly longer than all easy questions combined. Consider how long you’ve taken to solve all the easy questions. It may take at least twice as long to solve one hard question. Try all easy questions as soon as possible to gauge how long the rest could take.
- For questions you weren’t able to solve, review the lessons/notes to see if you can figure out what you are missing. Then:
- Try giving yourself a break for a day before attempting them again to allow time for your mind to continue working subconsciously.
- Still stuck? Check out Math problems: What to do when you're stuck for more strategies and tips.
- Keep track of unsolved questions and what stages you were stuck at. Don’t throw away any work in progress.Your instructor or TA can provide better help if you can narrow down on the issue.
The only way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics.
– Paul Halmos
Mathematics is not a deductive science -- that's a cliche. When you try to prove a theorem, you don't just list the hypotheses, and then start to reason. What you do is trial and error, experimentation, guesswork.
– Paul Halmos
Part B: Get help on unsolved questions
- Attend office hours, tutorials, or the online forum if the class has one.
- The sooner you ask for support, the more time you and the instructor/TA will have for follow-up conversations.
- Bring your work in progress on unsolved questions. Often, you may be on the right path and the instructor or TA can provide better help when they’re able to see what you have attempted.
- Focus on asking questions to help you close the gap between your understanding, and the understanding you need to complete the question. Questions such as “Can I get a hint on #4?” or “What is the answer?” are not typically helpful in increasing your problem-solving abilities.
- For questions you were challenged by, but were able to solve after receiving help from the instructor or TA, make sure that you fully understand how to come up with the solution in case a similar question is asked on a test.
- Many students find it helpful to study together. Make sure you understand what your instructor’s expectations are around group work (if you’re not sure, ask!). Be mindful about how much you post about an assignment solution on the course’s discussion board and if you’re in doubt, consider posting privately. Familiarize yourself with the academic integrity standards expected in your courses.
The goal of seeking help is to try to find out how to approach questions that you are stuck on. From this extra help you still may not see the complete picture of how to solve the problem. To see this may require that you go back to Part A, now with the instructor/TA’s suggestions in mind.
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
– Thomas Alva Edison
Step 4: Check your solutionsPercent time spent on this step: 10%
- It’s important that you spend some time away from your solutions before you check them. For problems you did solve, try to figure out if you can check your own answer like you would have to on a test (i.e. don’t look up answers in a book or online).
- You could ask the instructor/TA for guidance, but avoid questions such as “Did I do this right?” Instead, ask yourself whether you are asking the right questions about your solution.
- Remember not to focus only on the final answer, but also on how you communicated your answer. Ask yourself if a typical student in the class could follow along with what you’ve written.
- Remember to cite any external sources that you used in your work, including work completed with others (if this was permitted).
Step 5: Review Marked AssignmentsPercent time spent on this step: 0%
After receiving your marked assignment check over incorrect questions as well as those you got right. Review posted solutions and read them critically. Often, there are different approaches to a problem and you may learn about some of these new approaches through this review.