# How to Succeed in Math

Step 1: Hard work trumps natural talent.

As in most everything, the people who are most successful in math are the ones who work the hardest–not those with “natural talent.”   In school, those who work hard get better grades in math than the “smart” students who just coast.  Most aspects of mathematics can only be learned by hard practice.  This holds true whether you want to develop your problem solving abilities or your computational skills.  No one thinks they can run a marathon by using only their natural talent, but there are lots of people with no talent for running who have worked hard and have successfully completed many marathons.

Step 2: Keep an open mind.

In math almost everything you learn is useful, even if you can’t see it right away.  All the formulas, theorems, ideas, proofs, and problems you study in high school and college are connected to lots of real world applications, even if you don’t see them now.    And more importantly, even if you think you’ll never use the specific things you are studying, they help develop your mind and make it easier for you to solve other problems later–the problems you really care about.   It’s like boxing: training programs for boxers often involve lots of jumping rope.  A boxer might complain “When am I ever going to use this? I am never going to jump rope in a match.”   But jumping rope makes them better boxers, even though the boxers never actually jump rope while fighting.   The math you are learning is much more useful than jumping rope; but even if you never use it in your daily life yet, it makes you smarter.  That is the most important reason to study it.

Step 3: Find the reasons–don’t just memorize.

Mathematics is not just a long list of random formulas that someone invented out of nowhere.  Math works because it is true–there is a reason for every step, every rule, and every part of every formula.  Don’t just memorize the formulas and the rules.  Find out where they came from, why they work, and what they mean.  It may sound like more work to do this, but if you try it, you will quickly find that understanding the reasons and the meaning actually makes everything easier.

Step 4: Never give up.

Math is hard.  Anyone who says otherwise is lying.  But you can do it anyway.  If you want to be good at anything, you have to stick with it, even when you feel like quitting.  You gain the most when you finally figure out a problem after a long struggle.  That’s how you get smarter.  But you’ll get nowhere if you give up whenever a problem is confusing or when you can’t solve it right away.

Athletes know that working, fighting, against something that is hard makes you stronger.  The same goes for your brain–getting the right answer quickly won’t make you smarter, but fighting with a hard problem for a long time will.

Step 5: Learn to read the textbook.

Math books are not like other books–they pack a lot of information into a small space.  One page might take you an hour to really understand well.  That is not because the books are poorly written–it is because it takes time to absorb the information, and you have to think carefully about every line.  You even have to think a lot about the pictures.

Most people who try to read math books get frustrated and give up–they expect the math book to be as easy to read as their favorite novel.  But if you slow down and really think about what is happening in each step, you will find that your book is like a personal tutor.  Most books have lots of examples and explain things in several different ways.  Most of them are written by someone who has been teaching for a long time and knows how to help you with the confusing parts.  Once you get the hang of reading them, they can make learning math a lot easier.

The one thing a book can’t do is answer questions.  The great secret is read the book before you go to class.  Then you can ask the teacher about all the things that didn’t make sense in the book.  Most people only try to read the book after class, when they didn’t understand some part of what the teacher was saying.  But then if you have a question, you’re stuck–you can’t ask your questions because the teacher is gone.

Step 6: Talk to your teacher.

Professors and teachers want to help you.  Get to know them.  Go to them for help–they love to talk to students who want to learn.   Go to them to get help finding the right classes, to get help with homework (even for a class they are not teaching), and just to discuss life.  They can help you with your math, and they can help you avoid the mistakes they made when they were students.

Step 7: Look for the beauty.

Math is extremely useful, but it is also beautiful.  It connects lots of different ideas into one.  It explains important things that cannot be understood in any other way.  When you finally get it, it is exciting to see how things fit together, why things work, how it all makes sense.   Enjoy the experience of opening your mind.

• jose bagodi
October 22, 2009

Gostaria de conhecer, usando a lingua portuguesa ,informações sobre equações diofantinas com 3 variaveis, tendo um tratamento vetorial, e a tecnica para obter o primeiro ponto P(x1,u1,z1).jabagodi@uol.com.br

22 de outubro de 1009.

• mark
December 11, 2009

José,

Obrigado pelo seu interesse em whenwilliusemath.com. Eu recebi sua
pergunta de “equações diofantinas lineares”. Eu nao sei muito a respeito
disso, mas Wikipedia tem um webpage que fala disso.

http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algoritmo_de_Euclides_estendido

La, falam de usar o algoritmo de Euclides estendido para se encontrar o
máximo divisor comum (MDC) de dois números inteiros. Pode usar este
algoritmo mais vezes si tem mais que dois numeros (aqui, usa o fato que o
MDC(a,b,c)=MDC(a,MDC(b,c)).

Tem mais informacao no webpage en ingles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Euclidean_algorithm .

Boa sorte,

Mark Meilstrup
BYU Mathematics Dept.

• Joequellursin
February 18, 2016

this information made me wanting to study math & not give up on my career .THANKS

• Alexandria
November 12, 2014

Can you please type it in English?

• Kim Dawkins
October 6, 2015

Thank you, and hope this does work I always thought you have to be smart to get it. I guess you have to talk more to your teacher when, you are stuck. I am one of those hard workers that try to solve it my self so, figured out what I did wrong thank you

• Marco
April 20, 2011

Thank you for putting this together!

This is phenomenal inspiration and encouragement for a student of Mathematics who came across some bumps on the road.

Thank you!

• dcaravantes
June 14, 2010

its pretty much a thank you for letting us see that theres more than just a math class out there for math .

Derek

April 21, 2011

I come back to this page and video when I’m looking for a little “pep” talk. Thanks!!

• Marco
April 22, 2011

I thought I was the only one. Finally I decided to register recently.

• munizangel
May 3, 2011

just barley joined

• gullit
May 22, 2011

I know it’s just a tiny introduction to how to approach mathematics but I would suggest something that is equally ( if not more ) important than those listed above, I would put it in step three.
When approaching a topic in math try to look for the history of the topic, for example, ask yourself what kind of problems this math was developed to solve, when studying Calculus consider what kind of problem Sir Isaac Newton was trying to solve when he came up with the notion of “tangent line at a point”, don’t just consider that “deltas” and “epsilon” gibberish notation, this is just how we talk about those concepts, not how we think about them. Thank you guys.

• SurveyorAZ
August 26, 2010

Please remember to focus not only on the TREE but the entire FORREST ! If your answer doesn’t LOOK right, chances are, its NOT. Learn to estimate a answer by getting close to the solution before working the problem. If your answer is 10,000 times MORE than your guess, then your answer may be wrong. Not always. But about 99% of the time. Such as 50% more than 6 can not be 12. That DOUBLE or 100% more. It can’t be 8 because that’s a third more (33%). 2/6 = 1/3. 9 is the same a 6 plus half of 6 (50% of 6 = 3).

• dizzygirl182
September 13, 2010

I want my children to be good in math…so here i am!

• toniwede
October 18, 2011

creation of the universe based on mathematical calculations that are so beautiful

• tanongmo
January 9, 2012

Thanks for sharing.

• Daroline Long aka Dee Long
September 25, 2014

Steps 4 and 7
I do believe that the more you work at something, the easier the solution becomes, you just can’t rush through any problems, because more than likely you will make errors. Take your time if you can, and work through the calculations to get the right answers. When you have done that a whole new world does open up and you can see the beauty of solving the problems.

Dee Long

• Melissa Ballard
October 20, 2014

I have never been good at math.

• Jamie Vest
April 25, 2015

There is a lot of things you can do to succeed in math. There are the steps I have chosen; finding the reasons to everything especially if you don’t understand things. Just memorizing isn’t a good way to do things; doing it that way you won’t learn anything. Sometimes things get rough and you feel like giving up, when this happens take a deep breath and tell your self that you can do this. Sometimes I have noticed that people put themselves down along with thinking negative and think they cant do it and they end up giving up. Everyone just needs to keep their heads up and keep thinking positive. You can always talk to your teacher and that will also help you to keep thinking positive.

• Chloe G
September 9, 2015

• Nick
September 11, 2015

The two topics that I found to be the biggest struggle in math are Keeping an open mind and talking to the teacher. The reason that I found talking to the teacher to be one of the hardest things to do is because by nature I am a very shy person and have always been mortified of looking dumb or messing up at the teachers desk or most of all raising my hand in front of the class and being wrong. The second topic keeping an open mind. Through the years this topic has been easier for me to deal with as with my grades always getting better my state of mind like with this year instead of worrying about how hard this year could be I could instead be thinking about how well I can do this year. Every year these two points get easier to deal with

• Pamela
December 3, 2015

I am attending Independence University and this is one of the articles for my math class. This article has been beneficial to me because I am returning to school after a very long absence. I hope there are more articles like this one.

• Barry
January 13, 2016

Math is going to be a great subject to expand my knowledge and process into my new mathematical life.

• June 13, 2016

Thank you for writing this information. I read it to my parents and it was alot of help to understand what/why math is so important and to never look at it like its useless. sometimes it’s overwhelming.