First, I'm not trying to make this sound like a "poor-me" story. I understand fully that every decision I've made leading to this is my fault. I am genuinely looking for advice.

So, I am a high school student who is a sophomore and feel I have developed an interest in mathematics a bit late. As an elementary and even middle school student, I was always not paying attention in most math classes because they didn't grab my interest. I think the reason for this is because most of my teachers were "old-fashioned" and didn't really bother to explain the awesome things you can do with math. So on my end of things, I only saw manipulating numbers which didn't seem productive to me. I have always had a deep interest in computers and how they work (you can see where this is going most likely). So, upon entering my freshman year of high school I developed a passion for computer programming. Now realizing that large portions of math are required to major in computer science, I am beginning to worry a bit. A large amount of people I meet automatically assume I am good at math, and I feel sort of guilty for wasting those years of my life barely paying attention. Currently I am beginning to enjoy math, though.

I feel that most math teachers don't capture the interest of the students because they don't show the engineering side of things when it comes to math. I love creating original things and have been told I am very creative. I would like to use that creativity and produce creations using math, but I think I'm a bit behind.

My math final is tomorrow, so I'm rather stressed out. The actual questions in this post are:

  1. What are some good math study methods?
  2. What should I do this summer to strengthen my math skills?
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    $\begingroup$ "My math final is tomorrow". There's not much we can do here about this. $\endgroup$
    – lhf
    May 26, 2011 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @lhf There is, I asked for advice on some good study habits (keep in mind that I have been studying for a very long time previously so I am somewhat prepared) $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    May 26, 2011 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ As suggested there is that kahn academy, which he built a practice center i guess you can say. It can be helpful. I found that practicing problems over and over helps me. You will eventually recognize the steps need to take to solve a problem. Computer science isn't really heavily reliant on math either. Calc 2 is really all you need, CS is more on theory and philosophy if you ask me. $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    May 26, 2011 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt "Computer science isn't really heavily reliant on math." I disagree. Theoretical computer science (Turing, Church et al) basically is mathematics. Functional programming languages (Lisp, Haskell) are mathematics expressed as computer code. Good algorithm design requires knowledge of computational complexity (Knuth et al) which is mathematics. Good OO program design benefits hugely from an understanding of mathematics (functions, relations, predicates etc). Many programming tasks (search, optimisation, scheduling, graphics) have inherently mathematical solutions. CS relies on math! $\endgroup$ May 26, 2011 at 9:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Chris Taylor it does, but thats more like philosophy. Like i said it's more theoretical stuff than actual mathematics. The mathematics you are talking about comes from philosophy. $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    May 27, 2011 at 0:16

4 Answers 4


You might want to read this post on how to study math: it's about good study methods /strategies for math. There are some great contributions/answers to that question.

Second, it is never too late to begin anew. Though you may feel like you've wasted "years" of your life, you've still got lots of time, and it seems you've got the motivation to build your math skills and explore your interests further and prepare for college. While it will take discipline to get up to speed and continue in math, and lots of persistence and patience, be sure to dabble in what excites you about math. Explore and have fun with math!.

Wish you the best, and welcome to the wonderful world of mathematics!


Okay, I have a bit of experience that other people here may not: I'm in almost the exact same situation as you.

I'm currently 16 and I discovered my love for mathematics back when I was 13. If you're just discovering this at 15 or 16, don't worry a bit. There is no need to worry. I am not a prodigy, and I can tell you that the majority of mathematics you've 'missed' is equivalent to about 3 weeks of studying. Truth be told, I have learned very little academic knowledge from school. Partially, this is my fault. However, primarily, I feel this is the fault of my state's education system.

I bet you're not in a very different situation! So, here's what I recommend to you as a teen talking to another teen: Do what you love. You clearly love CS, eh? Okay, well, to go far in CS, you'll need to truly understand the mathematics behind computers. But, before you can conquer that, you'll need to master your basics (all high school subjects and a few undergrad subjects) in order to get a flavor for mathematics.

So, here is exactly what I think you should do: Make A's in your classes (all of them---you seem smart enough to do that), study for the ACT and SAT (the most important portion for you, right now, being mathematics), participate in any academic extracurriculars (academic team?), study mathematics in your free time (!!!), and enroll in college math classes if you are capable.

Now, why do I recommend these things? I have done every single one of these things. I cannot tell you how surprising it is to truly and honestly study for the ACT and SAT. You learn in the most concrete way that you really don't know a lot. By studying those two tests alone very rigorously, I learned a lot of concepts that I hadn't seen before. The added bonus is that their questions are formatted so beautifully mathematically speaking that they help you learn the concepts so much quicker and easier. In general, there is always a beautiful method to solve any question they have and its beauty makes the learning process so much easier.

Here's the importance of these things and how I would suggest doing them chronologically speaking:

  • Studying in your free time
  • Make A's in all your classes
  • Study for the ACT and SAT (as well as other school tests: e.g. PLAN and PSAT)
  • Academic extracurriculars
  • Enroll in extra college classes

As a final note, relax! Your life hasn't been decided yet, and it won't be for quite some time. However, don't let this make you lazy. Let this inspire you to be amazing. That's how I approach life. :)


Don't feel too bad about 'wasting time' up till now. Most people don't know any math, and few are good at it. You shouldn't get down on yourself for being behind.

Instead, do the productive thing: problems. A thousand, thousand problems, from whichever disciplines of math you can find. The old adage that "Math is not a spectator sport" is very true. Reading math books and trying to understand will help some, but the only real way to learn math is to actually do math.

This site is good not just because you can ask more experienced people for help, but also because it gives you a venue to look at a variety of math problems. I learn a lot by trying to answer other people's questions, even when I don't know the answers right away.

In conclusion, solid, certifiable, genuine practice is the most important thing. Whether you get it from the internet or from books is up to you. Just find a topic you like, get disciplined, and finish what you start: do problems.


Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that has a lot of instructional videos on you-tube and practice problems on their site. It helped me get through physics and calculus.

  • $\begingroup$ I use the Khan Academy sometimes. It is a very useful site! :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    May 26, 2011 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Tim...How's it going with your studies...key point: get some sleep! (Don't try pulling an "all-nighter". Yes, Khan Academy is awesome...a great place to back track to fill any gaps you may feel you have, plus it has high school and college math, too. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    May 26, 2011 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy Pretty well, and yeah, I don't think I want to pull an all-nighter the night before a final haha. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    May 26, 2011 at 3:01

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