Math Study Skills 
I.  Definition of Training Piece

A.  Purpose for Instructor

Do you ever wonder why so many of your students are unsuccessful in mathematics? Have you ever wondered what all the variables are that contribute to student academic success? Have you focused on instructional improvements only to have your students tell you they don't have time to study or don't know how to study mathematics? These questions and other like them are on the minds of mathematics instructors who want to help improve their students learning.

By the end of this module, you will have the answers to these questions and be able to set up a systematic plan to improve your students' learning.

B.  Material Covered

The content of this module will introduce you to the variables that contribute to student academic achievement based on Bloom (1976). Additional research will be presented on the effects of math study skills training, the contents of math study skills and how to teach math study skill in various situations such as math courses, labs, and math study skills courses.

II.  Foundation

A.  Definition of Concept and Theory

There are several variables that contribute to student success according to Ben Bloom. These variables fall into three categories: cognitive entry skills (50%), quality of instruction (25%) and affective characteristics (25%). Cognitive entry skills are the students' abilities to do mathematics and their previous math knowledge. Quality of instruction is based on the textbook, curriculum design, tutorial services, lab resources and the match between the students' and instructors' learning styles. The affective characteristics are personality, self-concept, attitudes, locus of control, anxiety and study habits. Colleges need to focus on all these areas to improve student academic achievement. However, the most neglected area in colleges today is the student's affective characteristics. This is also the easiest to improve because it calls for a change in student behavior instead of in instructor behavior.

B.  Summary of Relevant Research

Here is a summary of research on the effects of math study skills on student learning and grades. In 1986, a dissertation was written on The Effects of Math Study Skills Training on Mathematics Academic Achievement. This dissertation, researched by Dr. Paul Nolting, was on teaching students who had failed their Elementary Algebra course one to four times math study skills. In the study there was a control group who did not receive math study skills training and an experimental group who received math study skills training. The math study skills training was in the form of a one hour math study skills course which met two hours a week for the first eight weeks of a sixteen week semester. Each student was also repeating the Elementary Algebra course, and the dependent variable was the grade in the math course. The results indicated that the experimental group had a significant higher passing rate in the algebra course than the control group. The experimental group had a 67% passing rate compared to a 33% passing rate for the control group.

Researchers at other colleges have come up with similar results. Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida did a Title III grant funded one year study on the effects of math study skills courses on their Elementary Algebra courses. They were providing one-hour math study skills courses that ended at midterm, and they came up with significant results. Their results demonstrated a significant increase of algebra grades at the .05 level.

West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon conducted research on math study skills with students with disabilities who were taking an Elementary Algebra course. The instructor taught the math study skills in her algebra course. She front-loaded the math study skills in the first part of the semester so the students would immediately become better learners. The student pass rate for her class was 90% compared to the average course pass rate of 50%.

Other colleges have also reported significant results in developmental arithmetic/pre algebra courses and Intermediate Algebra courses. Based on the overwhelming research, we can establish that math study skills training improves students' learning and grades. The concern now is the best way to get it into the curriculum.

III.  Benefits

A.  Instructor

Instructors can help improve the academic achievement of their student by using the Bloom model. The first task is to make sure the student in your course is properly placed. Any student who did not meet the course prerequisite or did not score high enough on the placement test must be dropped and placed into the correct math course. Secondly, instructors need to continually work on improving the quality of instruction to meet the needs of a diverse population. One way this can be accomplished is by attending workshops such as the one offered by Faculty Development Programs. Finally by making the students better learners, both the instructor and student can become more successful.

The third step can be implemented quickly and have a more immediate effect on student success. Imagine teaching students who know how to take math notes, know how to read a mathematics text book, know how to create a positive study environment, know a systematic way to do homework, know how to understand concepts, know how to reduce test anxiety, know how to take a math test and finally know how to analyze their math test so they don't make the same mistakes. These students will have the skills to learn mathematics and make it easier for you to teach them. Mathematics learning now becomes a team approach instead of an individual instructor approach. The result is students that are better learners and make better grades.

B.  Student

The students will not only benefit by learning more mathematics and making better grades, but they will also gain improved self-esteem. Students will be able to see that their intellectual ability is not their learning problem, but it is the fact they were never taught how to study mathematics. Imagine students who have never passed a developmental math course now passing the course. Or imagine a student who has never made an A on a math test making his or her first A. Also imagine student who have hated math now loving math and deciding to change their major to mathematics or business (which requires more math). These students are going to thank you for changing their lives. They now can select the major they want instead of first asking how much math is required. Students will not only improve their grades but will be able to improve their lives.

IV.  Implementation

A.  Exploration Exercises for Instructor

When students receive their tests back most of them do not know how to analyze the test to determine the different type of test-taking errors. You can teach them the different types of test taking errors by first analyzing some of their tests. Figure out how many points each student missed based on these six types of errors. Then Indicate the points lost for each type of error and see if there is a pattern.

Misread Direction Errors: Misread direction errors occur when students skip directions or misunderstand directions and continue to work the problem, for example when the student tries to solve a factoring problem thinking it is an equation. Another example of a misread direction error is when the test says simplify to lowest terms but leaves a fraction as 2/4 instead of 1/2.

Careless Errors: Careless errors are the type errors that a student would catch if he/she read over the problem. The best example is the student who is a sign dropper. The best example is the student who is a sign dropper - a student who drops a negative sign (or any sign) and misses the problem. Another example is someone who adds numbers incorrectly usually in his/her head and doesn't use paper or a calculator. These careless errors once reviewed can be caught and immediately corrected. However, these students usually don't review the test questions.

Concept Errors: Concept errors are cognitive mistakes made when the student does not understand the properties or principles required to work the problem. For example, the student doesn't understand the concept of distributive property and cannot solve an equation that required the use of this property. Concept errors must be corrected to understand the next mathematics chapter. Once a student has too many concept errors, he/she will not be able to pass the mathematics class.

Application Errors: Application errors occur when a student knows the concept but can not apply to the problem. Application errors usually are found when trying to solve word problems or graph equations. In solving word problems, the students understand how to solve the equation but cannot figure out what type of equation should be used. The next example is solving a problem correctly but not being able to graph it. Appropriate practice and insight can avoid most application errors.

Test-Taking Errors: Test taking errors apply to the way the student takes the test. Some test-taking errors are not following the Ten Steps to Better Test-Taking, working on a problem to long, not handing in scratch work, changing test answers and not completing the second step of a two step problem. Test-Taking Errors are caused when students are not taught the strategies and pitfalls of taking a math test.

Study Errors: Study errors occur when the student studies the wrong type of material and puts less focus on the focuses on the important material or crams for the test. For example, students may spend too much time reviewing their homework problems instead of reviewing the problems in their notebook. Or students may wait until the last night to study for their math test and expect to do well.

B.  Student Exercises

Have the students take the Math Study Skills Evaluation and turn it in to you. The free Math Study Skills Evaluation is on the Web at You can also have your students analyze the results.

C.  Skills Connection

1. Active Learning: Some of the most effective strategies for learning mathematics are active learning strategies that pair or group students as they work problems. The Active Learning module provides activities that can be adapted for the math classroom.

V.  Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Did the math study skills course count for credit and how long did it last?

A: The math study skills course is a one hour credit course that met for 16 hours and one hour for a final exam. So that the students would be able to use their new math study skills behaviors for the current semester, the course ended at midterm. Some colleges have started additional math study skills classes after midterm for those students who are failing math. This means we can help the student now instead of waiting until next semester. I have taught the course for one hour a week for sixteen weeks, but it wasn't as successful.

Q: Who can teach the math study skills course?

A: Mathematics instructors are the first group of individuals who can teach the course. Counselors and study skills instructors have also been successful teaching the course because it focuses is on math learning skills and not doing mathematics in the classroom. It has also be team taught by a math instructor and counselor. The student success has been with the above three types of instructors.

Q: If we cannot offer a math study skills course how else can we teach the students math study skills?

A: Some colleges who have mandatory math labs are teaching math study skills to groups of students during the first part of the semester. The students can still be tutored at different times of the day. Some other colleges have integrated math study skills into their general study skills courses, freshman seminars, college success courses or as part of an orientation course. These course are usually two to three hours and have enough time to teach math study skills. Instructors need at least 12 hours of instruction to teach the students math study skills. Instructors have also successfully taught math study skill in their math courses by only focusing on the key points and having the students read the math study skills workbook or textbook out side of class. The last way is to offer workshops on math study skills/test anxiety. Student will come to these workshops, but the workshops usually do not have enough time to significantly change the students math study skills behavior. The exception is if the students are given he Math Study Skills Evaluation and then told what areas they need to work on and then complete the assignments.

Q: Can math study skills help students with learning disabilities learn mathematics?

A. Math study skills has helped thousands of students with learning disabilities improve their math learning and grades. However, the students will still need their accommodations and tutor support.

VI.  Helpful Resources

Commander, Stratton, Callahan, & Smith. "A Learning Assistance Model for Expanding Academic Support." Journal of Developmental Education, 1996: 20 (2), 8-16.

Nolting, P.D (1991). Math and the Learning Disabled Student: A Practical Guide for Accommodations. Pompano Beach, FL: Academic Success Press.

Nolting, P.D. (1991) Winning at Math: Your Guide to Learning Mathematics through Effective Study Skills. Bradenton, FL: Academic Success Press.

Zaslavsky, C. Fear of Math: How to Get over it and Get on with Your Life. New Brunswick, NY: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
This website provides a math study skills evaluation as well as additional resources for math study skills.

Workshop Information to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Training at (800) 856-5727.