Success in Mathematics


There is no one size fits all strategy when it comes to finding a path to success in mathematics. Many variables affect your level of success. These variables include your unique learning style, and possibly, your level of math anxiety. Common characteristics of strong vs. weak students also come into play. What I have outlined below is a generic list of strategies that work for most students.

7 Habits of Highly Successful Math Students

People who become successful in life are not necessarily those with the most natural talent. Successful people develop habits that lead to success. Likewise, successful math students are not necessarily those with the most natural talent. Instead, they are students who develop a plan for success, and who are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to ensure success. Follow this 7-step strategy and you too can become a successful math student.

  • Habit 1: Be an Active Participant - Math is Not a Spectator Sport!

    The best way to learn math is by doing it. Let's consider an athlete. For example, a top ranked boxer doesn't step into the ring on fight night expecting to win without having first put in the necessary training. Successful boxers have training camps lasting months in preparation for a match that lasts less than an hour. Practice is an important ingredient that goes into the making of a champion. Math is no different. You have to be willing to put in weeks and/or months of hard work to be successful on a test that will last less than an hour.

    • As a general rule of thumb, you should expect to spend an average of two hours of study for each hour spent in class. But this may not be enough! The actual amount of time you spend studying depends on how difficult the topic is. Spend as much time as necessary to master the topic.

    • An important fact to remember is that long-term memory is dramatically improved when review comes immediately after learning a topic. Therefore, if at all possible, do not schedule another class immediately after your math class. Instead, leave the hour after math class free so you can study.

  • Habit 2: Be Receptive.

    When are we ever going to use this? This is the never-ending lament of countless numbers of frustrated math students. You can rest assured that there are many and varied practical applications of mathematics in everyday life. Some topics, when studied in isolation, do not seem to have any practical value. However, when combined with other topics, the value becomes obvious. Sometimes you have to see the big picture to appreciate how useful mathematics truly is. Be receptive, keep learning, and eventually, you will see the big picture.

  • Habit 3: Pay attention to details.

    In mathematics, 'little details" are extremely important. For example, the only difference between +$10,000 and -$10,000 is a little unimportant detail, the sign. That little detail becomes extremely important if it involves your bank account. In mathematics, details matter. Highly successful math students pay attention to details.

    • Many jobs (financial, medical, technical, etc.) require strict attention to detail - a transferable job skill developed by studying mathematics. Would you want a doctor who does not pay attention to details?

  • Habit 4: Don't just Memorize.

    Many students approach math as simply a list of rules and formulas to memorize. This kind of rote memorization approach to learning math is both difficult and boring. Memorizing the steps used to solve a problem may get you the right answer. However, taking the time to understand why the steps work will make math come alive. When you truly understand math, it becomes fun and exciting, and much easier too!

  • Habit 5: Build your vocabulary.

    The words used in mathematics have their own special meanings. If you do not understand the language, how can you understand the mathematics?

    Nearly every concept in mathematics flows from the precise meaning of specific words. Understanding the language of mathematics gives you the means to acquire new concepts. In other words, understanding the language of mathematics gives you the means to be successful in mathematics.

  • Habit 6: Get help when you need it.

    Nearly every student, at some point in time, will need help with something. Don't be intimidated by your professor. Even though some of them seem scary, when you get to know your professors, you will find that they are more than willing to answer your questions. They want you to succeed. If you are having difficulty with a topic, ask your professor for help as soon as possible.

    In addition to your professor, take advantage of any and all resources available to you. Those resources include tutorial sessions offered by your school or department, other textbooks, videos, and even your fellow classmates. If you need more help, consider a private tutor. Be tenacious and never give up.

  • Habit 7: Have a positive attitude.

    Don't think of math as a stumbling block designed to keep you from reaching your goals. Instead, think of math as a gateway to opportunities in our increasingly technological society. The list of careers that depend on mathematics is longer than most people realize. Having a positive attitude toward math can take you places you never imagined.


Make the seven habits of highly successful math students a part of your personal action plan for success and you will achieve your goals. Aim high. With math, the sky's the limit!