How to Read a Math Text
(Applicable to lower-division mathematics classes)
This is the transcription of a handout I made for my Calculus III class, Spring 2004. (I have used a
similar handout in several calculus classes for several years now.)
The "in-class reading exercise" is specific to how we used this in
class one day. The "General Rules" are generally applicable to
lower-division mathematics classes, say, pre-calculus through
differential equations and matrix algebra (applied linear algebra).
Further background: A quick search on "How to read a math text" on
Google turns up several promising pages. In the future, I plan to
look through them to make recommendations.
Make sure you have paper and a pen or pencil (and, if necessary, an
appropriate calculator) handy! Then:
- Read one subsection at a time. Skim first, and then read it
- For examples, cover up the solution, and try it yourself first.
When you get stuck, try to uncover a little at a time, and then think
about it more. Afterwards, make your own example.
- For displayed and boxed equations, ask what does each variable
- For displayed and boxed definitions, try to construct an
Procedure for the in-class reading exercise
First, get a reading partner sitting near you. Now, for each
- Read silently for a minute or so (skim the material).
- Then, with your partner, take it about one paragraph at a time:
- Take turns asking each other what this paragraph means.
- At the examples, try to construct your own examples. (I will
suggest restrictions and modifications, as necessary.)
- For each paragraph (or block of several paragraphs),
agree what the most important point is, and take notes (as you would
for a lecture) or highlight the text.
- Every five minutes or so, I'll pick random people to explain the
part you've been reading.