Archive for January 2015

How to Be a Mature Math Student

January 29, 2015

At the beginning of W.M. Priestley’s book, Calculus: A Liberal Art, is a page titled For Anyone Afraid of Mathematics. Here’s the first paragraph:

Maturity, it has been said, involves knowing when and how to delay succumbing to an urge, in order by doing so to attain a deeper satisfaction. To be immature is to demand, like a baby, the immediate gratification of every impulse. 


Gabriel Medina, 2014 winner of the Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing, maturely surfs a wave at the Banzai Pipeline. Maturity, whether in surfing, learning math, etc., involves knowing when and how to delay succumbing to an urge.

I am learning to surf, and every session reminds me how immature I am at this sport! I need instruction, and lots of it. I make bad choices on which waves I should try to catch and which ones I should let pass. More often than not, I do not know when and how to delay succumbing to that urge to ride a wave. But with repeated practice and instruction, I hope to gain a better sense of making mature wave selections.

In a similar way, an immature math student has many urges to overcome. One of the biggest is fear of failure, and when students feel that urge, they often respond immaturely by cheating, asking for help too soon, or just giving up. Do you want to be a mature math student? Here are some suggestions to help you achieve that goal.

  1. Failure is an option. In a math course, there is a reason that you are the student, and not the teacher! Students are the ones who need instruction. So when you are learning, humble yourself and be ready to make lots of mistakes.
  2. Learn from your mistakes. Homework is your time to practice new concepts and to expect some mistakes. When you grade your homework though, and you miss a problem, don’t just mark it wrong. Correct it. Review your lesson and your notes. Look for similar examples in the book. How were those examples solved? If your course has a solutions manual, study the solution carefully and work the problem again.
  3. Set a time limit. Some students give up too easily. Others don’t know when to give up. Both responses are immature. There is a difference between taking 10 minutes to solve a complex problem that you know how to do, and spending 10 minutes searching aimlessly for clues on how to solve a problem. If you can’t figure a problem out after 10 minutes or so, move on. Try it again later. Sometimes, after you’ve rested, you will find that you can figure a problem out.
  4.   Pray for maturity. Ask God to make you a humble, dedicated learner. Math is a tool for studying His creation, and He definitely wants you to use it to know Him better, so talk to Him, and ask Him to lead you. Some students will spend all their years of schooling blaming others for their poor math performance. They will blame the teacher, the textbook, their parents, everything but themselves. If that is you, well, most likely, the main problem is you. Ask God to show you how to have a grateful attitude for the gift of education. Ask Him to help you know when and how to maturely succumb to that urge to know the answer to a problem, and do your work in a way that gives Him glory!

Do you have any other suggestions on how to be a mature student? Feel free to leave a comment.