How to Prepare for College-Level Math

From electrical engineering and music to veterinary science, math is a critical component of many college majors. Even reading- and writing-heavy majors like English and history may be subject to math-focused general education requirements.

As a result, you may be nervous about thoroughly preparing for college-level math, including what steps you can take while still in high school to later thrive in math as a new undergraduate. To help allay those fears, two current undergrad students shared their experiences with math, as well as their advice for future college students.

[Read: Students Share Tips for Preparing for College Reading Assignments.]

Stretch your skills with challenging coursework. Jordan Peck, a sophomore at Tulane University in New Orleans, is no stranger to college-level math. As an undergraduate, she has completed consolidated calculus (calculus I and II) and a statistics course for scientists.

Her advice to current high school students is simple: “Take the hardest math classes you think you can do,” she wrote in an email.

Peck acknowledges that the specific course level will differ from student to student.

If you are comfortable with and passionate about math, you might opt for AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC. If you are uncertain about math, regular-track trigonometry may meet your needs. The most important element to keep in mind is that the class you choose should challenge you and stretch your skills without sacrificing your GPA.

Beyond challenging yourself, Peck points to a second benefit of higher-level math courses. In some instances, teachers will transition “to a different style of homework and teaching.” In Peck’s experience, “They spent less time on getting exact answers to shorter problems, and instead would give college-style math tests with long problems you could get partial credit for tackling in parts.”

This can be an excellent way to preview what will be expected of you once you matriculate to college and begin your classes.

[Read: How to Evaluate ACT, SAT Math Before Choosing an Exam.]

Remember to practice the basics. Both Peck and Julia Lieu, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, advocate for one simple action: practice.

Lieu, who has taken calculus III thus far in her college career, wrote in an email, “We’ve all heard that (to practice) through grade school, middle school, and high school, but it really is true.” For Lieu, practicing “helped me learn to apply the concept behind a particular formula or example presented in class to other problems.”

Similarly, Peck believes that drilling content and skills is key. “Make sure you’re really solid on the basics coming out of middle school and earlier algebra courses,” she says. Peck found this strategy to be particularly helpful in “higher level math, since I had the basics really ingrained in my mind.”

[Read: 3 Ways to Develop Calculator-Free Skills Before the ACT, SAT.]

There are many ways to practice your math skills this summer and once the school year begins again. Consider creating flashcards that list key formulas or rules, and use them during moments of downtime like road trips.

You may also find value in extracurricular activities that exercise your mathematical abilities like Academic Decathlon. The most important detail is to remain consistent in your math practice.

While college-level math can understandably be daunting, a little bit of advance planning and knowledge can serve you well. Keep these tips in mind as you move through high school and toward your next big academic adventure: college.

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