The first thing you need is a place. The place should be clean, comfortable, well-lit and free of distractions. A table in a fallout shelter would be ideal or a similar spot in a bathroom, but the dining room table would work nicely as well.
And you do need the table. I’ve seen what your work looks like when you do it on your lap. Egyptologists wouldn’t be able to read it. Sit in a chair at a table and not on the sofa in front of the danged TV. It should be off anyway.
After you’ve got the place, you need to have the supplies in place: pencil, paper, calculator, and wastebasket. I said pencil instead of pen and I meant it. You will make mistakes, so the pencil should have an eraser. I’ve known profs who’ve insisted on pens. They are insane sadists. If you know one, send him to me and I will call him that to his face. It won’t be a problem because he knows that already; he glories in it; that is why he does it.
You will need the paper, but that shouldn’t be a problem because paper is cheap. Seriously, it is. You can buy legal pads off Amazon for 4 cents a sheet. (Not that I would ever advise anyone to buy anything out of town. The folks at the Chamber of Commerce know where I live.) Don’t worry about cutting trees because those trees are grown for the very purpose of making paper. If there wasn’t pulpwood being grown on that land, they’d be using it to make moonshine or grow pot.
And, this is a big thing: Use the paper. I know young people who otherwise show no great concern for their parents’ resources but suddenly become misers when they are doing their math homework. They will try to squeeze into two lines problems that should take up half the page.
The “New Math,” which came in vogue about 50 years ago, took a lot of heat because it was about “how you did the problem and not getting the right answer.” Okay, at the end of the day we do want to get the right answer, but we want to get the right answer the next time too; and the time after that. Mathematics is about the process. When a math teacher grades, he (she/it) looks not only at the answer--which often comes from someone else’s paper--but also grades the process. The reason you want to have plenty of paper around--and use it--is so that you can run through the process in a manner his tired old eyes can see.
The word calculator might cause some eyebrows to raise because I am old-school in so many ways: I still come out of the classroom with chalk dust on my hands. I do believe in mental arithmetic. You should just know that 25 squared is 625. There will, however, be times in your life when you will need to know 4 divided by 7 to three decimal places. While you should be able to do that with paper and pencil, when you go out into the world, your boss will want you spending your time--his money--in the most efficient means possible.
Page 2 of 2 - This means you need to be able to use a calculator.
A calculator is like any other machine. You have to learn how to use it. You don’t just sit down at a piano and expect to be able to play a concert. You don’t climb behind the controls of a bulldozer and expect to be able to dig a pond. Why do you expect to be able to sit down with a calculator and be able to work your exam?
Okay, you’ve got a place; you’ve got the equipment. One more thing: Do it!
Don’t just sit there counting the text messages coming in; that phone should be off! Do the work. If you don’t know how to do it, look at the notes you took of the examples that were worked. If you didn’t take notes, open the book or use the Powerpoint slides and try to replicate what the teacher did. Our school motto is: “By doing, learn.” This works well with math. Or, to put it more accurately, if you don’t do it, you are not going to learn.
Okay, what are you waiting for? Get to work!
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at email@example.com.