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Top 10 habits all killer math students have

I did my undergrad in math at Carleton University in regular time, then I did a 2 year Masters in math at Waterloo in 12 months. How on earth did I finish so quickly?! Was I smarter than the rest? Nope. In fact, I felt quite a bit behind in terms of ability. I did however, work my ass off and use these AWESOME tips to be a KILLER math student.

1. Your homework questions are only suggestions.

Killer math students only stop working when they understand concepts, and have gained the mechanical know-how of solving all homework problems. Stopping work when homework is done is not NEARLY enough - you should stop when you understand and can complete homework exercises without the solutions or notes handy. Easier said than done!!

2. Know your learning style.

Figure out your learning style. I HATED class, and couldn't understand a thing until I saw everything in writing. Seriously, I felt stupid in university math classes until I found my own style of learning. Some students HAVE to learn from class. The sooner you figure out what works for you, the better. Do NOT underestimate how important this is.

3. Lose the attachment from right and wrong.

Killer math students don’t work on questions to get the answer right. That’s not WHY they do the homework. Killer math students don’t really care if they get the answer right, so long as they have a deep intuitive understanding of the problem. Theoretical understanding of problem > mechanical understanding.

4. Make immaculate, complete sets of notes.

Crappy notes are like, totally crappy. Do NOT take crappy notes. Killer math students LOVE taking wicked cool notes and have fun doing it. This alone can be the most important component to your success. Get different colour pens, get rulers, or learn how to type them out in LaTeX. Your classmates will WANT those awesome notes, so they'll be more than happy to explain topics that you don’t understand.

5. When in need, seek out and find good help.

Crappy students don’t ask for help when they're in over their heads. Killer math students do! Find a classmate who is owning the class, or get a tutor. Remember, not all tutors are created equal :)

6. Learn to love what you do.

I LOVE working on new and challenging math problems. It wasn't always that way, but I found out how I can approach math so that I love it. Math is freekin awesome. If you HATE your math course, you're probably missing some key components, and so you're frustrated because you're doing 10000 things that make no sense to you. Slow down, do the background work, and find a way to love it. By the way, I suggest the same thing to people who work out. I tell them they should find a workout class or way to work out that they really enjoy. Keep trying news ways of approaching the material until you find a way that works for you. Things to try: work in groups, research concepts on youtube before you try the homework, make weird cool notes, etc.

7. Control frustrations :)

Don’t get too frustrated with mistakes. This leads to giving up. Making mistakes is a HUGE part of math. It means you either need to do more background work, re-read instructions, or find new methods. Mistakes are learning opportunities. They are gifts from the math Gods. Killer math students know this, and laugh it off.

8. Use the available office hours.

Almost all profs and high school teachers have these mystical things called office hours. These are sessions held outside of class to help you out. Unless you're getting over 80%, you should probably be there for each possible time. More good news: if you go to a prof asking for intuition, and are showing initiative to actually UNDERSTAND the material (not just try and get answers to assignments), you will be instantly on their good side. Teachers LOVE students with initiative.

9. Collaborate & share in the learning.

Killer math students love talking to each other and learning from each other. Don’t try and handle everything on your own. I don’t know a single successful mathematician who hasn’t worked extensively with classmates to understand material. Work extremely hard to understand what you can, then share it with others and listen to what they have learned. Humans work better together.

10. Study the background.

Killer math students love doing lots of background work on new concepts. We’re super nerdy, so when faced with a new concept, we want to know where it came from, what it’s used for, what the different parts in the formula represent, etc. If you don’t understand WHY you're using a new formula, or how it works, you should take the time to figure out why. It can take an average of 2 HOURS per new concept. Do this even if it’s NOT assigned or required in the course.

Whatever I do in life, I try to express myself, INCLUDING (of course) when I do math. If that means making crazy elaborate notes, so be it. If that means doing crazy overdone background work to feel smarter, sweet. If that means wearing a lab coat to class, that’s cool too. Figure out your math identity, and love it!

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