Habits of highly successful math students

Developmental math is one of the biggest barriers to community college completion. A 2014 report from Complete College America found that fewer than 10% of students required to complete remedial courses before enrolling in for-credit courses graduated community college within three years.

Your approach to developmental math could be holding students back

As colleges experiment with new ways to set up developmental math students for success, a national survey by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) reveals some common habits and traits of some of the nation's top math students.

For the survey, 1,680 students in the 11th and 12th grades were asked how they learn math. The students all participated in Moody's Mega Math Challenge, an annual competition sponsored by Moody's Corporation where students are asked to use math to solve real-world problems. 

One study habit was a clear favorite among students: 64% said they focus on understanding the underlying concepts behind math formulas.

But some of the most common strategies taught to students turned out to be their least favorite ways to study. Of the respondents:

  • 23% work on lots of practice problems to learn how to solve them;
  • 7% apply math to real-world problems to increase understanding; and
  •  4% memorize formulas.

Students also shared what they do when they have difficulty learning a math concept:

  • 29% keep trying on their own until they figure it out;
  • 24% ask a teacher for help;
  • 17% search the internet for help;
  • 11% take a break and come back later;
  • Another 11% ask a friend for help; and
  • Only 0.79% skip the problem and move on.

(Loewus, Education Week, 4/14; SIAM/Moody's report, accessed 4/25).

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