Expectations in College Math Classes

Math courses in College are probably different than what you experienced in high school (or maybe even what you experienced in Community College).

The following are some expectations and suggestions as to how to meet those expectations. If you follow these suggestions, you will have a better understanding of how the course works and it will help you obtain the grade you are capable of earning.

  1. IN THE CLASSROOM. Expect to have material covered at a much faster pace than in high school. You are expected to come to class prepared as detailed below.

  2. OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM. Lecture time is at a premium, so it must be used efficiently. You cannot be taught everything in the classroom. Much of your learning must take place outside the classroom. At a minimum you should plan on studying three or more hours outside the classroom for each hour in class. For a typical 3-hour per week class, this means you should spend nine hours per week studying outside of class. During this time you should do the course reading for the next class, read over your notes from the previous class, attempt all the homework that is assigned, and try to work additional problems in areas where you feel weak.

  3. THE TEXTBOOK. You are expected to read the textbook for comprehension. It gives a detailed account of the material of the course. It also contains many examples of problems worked out, and these should be used to supplement those you see in the lecture. Use pencil and paper to work through the material and to fill in omitted steps. Read the appropriate sections of the book before the material is presented in lecture. That way the lecture will make more sense. After the lecture, carefully reread the textbook along with your lecture notes to solidify your understanding of the material.

  4. EXAMS. The exams are used to determine how well you understand the basic principles underlying the methods taught in the course, and whether you are able to apply these principles to novel as well as routine situations. Some problems on an exam may seem new, but all will be solvable using principles from the material on which you are being tested.

  5. EXPLAIN SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS. In college the answer to a math problem includes not only the final number you may get, but also all the reasoning you did to get to that point. You need to explain the process and display understanding of it. It is your responsibility to communicate clearly in writing up solutions for homework, quizzes, and exams. Your results must display your understanding well and be written in a correct, complete, coherent, and well organized fashion. The rules of language still apply in mathematics, and apply even when symbols are used in formulas, equations, etc. Remember: neatness counts!

In Conclusion:
It is your responsibility to learn the material. Most of this learning must take place outside the classroom. The instructor's job is primarily to provide a framework, with some of the particulars, to guide you in doing your learning of the concepts and methods that comprise the course. It is not to "program" you with isolated facts and problem types, or to train you to follow a process you don't understand.

The instructor stands ready to help you learn, but the responsibility is yours. If you are experiencing difficulty, go to your instructor's office hours for extra help. If you don't do your part, then there is very little the instructor can do to make up for it.

Based on: Zucker, Steven, Teaching at the University Level, AMS Notices (43), 1996, pp 863--865.

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