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Strategies for learning in problem solving courses

Prior to class - preview

To get a head start on learning and taking effective notes from the lecture:

  • Before class, look over the topic(s) and sample problems in your textbook that the teacher will be covering. Pay special attention to new vocabulary terms and symbols.
  • Review what you need to know from the previous class(es), especially if the new content builds on the previous content. 

During class - take effective notes

Your notes should help you understand the content better:

  • Avoid rewriting what is already written in the book or on the slides. Instead, take notes of  explanations or important points raised by your professor in class.

After class - practice, practice and practice

Go over your notes and redo problems:

  • Within a day or so after your class, take time to read over your notes and the related sections of your textbook to understand the procedures/problems that the teacher covered in class. Then, without looking at the solutions in your notes or text, try to re-do the problems that the teacher modeled in class and the examples in the text.
  • If you have difficulty doing a problem, study the solution and try to understand how to do it, but more importantly, reflect on what you learn from each problem. Write down any strategies or tricks you learned by solving that problem, or jot down questions about what you don't understand so you can ask a classmate or the teacher at the next class.

Do problems at the end of each chapter and summarize the procedures

  • After reviewing each section of the chapter, do as many new relevant problems as possible from the end of each chapter, practice websites or past exams, whether they are assigned as homework or  not. Learning to solve problems requires practice! As you complete a problem, summarize in words the procedure for solving that type of problem. A good idea is to write an example of each different type of problem on an index card with the procedure steps and solution on the back. You can then use these cards for review and to test yourself before an exam. Put a special mark on any problem that you had particular difficulty with.

Review regularly

  • Be sure to cycle back to previously covered material to keep terms, symbols and procedures fresh in your mind. Practice doing problems randomly (not just from one section or chapter of the text). This is easy to do by shuffling your index cards.

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