MyMathLab Pointers for Students

April 3, 2009 at 9:24 am 3 comments

MyMathLab Advice for Students
As an instructor that has used MyMathLab to supplement my math classes for nearly 10 years, I have come up with some strategies for students to use MyMathLab in an effective way. I’ll share some general advice, followed by specific suggestions for making the most of the features built into MyMathLab.

One of the most helpful suggestions is “Don’t procrastinate!” MyMathLab helps students to diagnose their areas of difficulty as well as remediate themselves, but this process takes time. The sooner you begin to work on your MyMathLab assignments, the more time you will have to remediate yourself.

You should not sit down and jump right into an assignment. You need to warm up for the assignment. Before beginning a MyMathLab assignment, start by reviewing your class notes. Look over the examples that your instructor presented during class and read through any general pointers and tips that your instructor gave to you. Next, read through the corresponding section in your textbook. Pay attention to new definitions and procedures that have been introduced, and read through the examples that have been solved. Finally, consider watching the video lecture associated with the material on your assignment.

While working on your MyMathLab assignments you should have a notebook or binder available in which to solve the problems. MyMathLab homework, in most courses, is designed to help you prepare for written exams. So, it makes sense to write down and solve each problem as preparation for your exams. If you get a problem incorrect, look at your work and determine where you went wrong. Circle your error and describe it in your own words, then rework the problem correctly. Try circling your mistake using a pencil or pen of a different color or with a highlighter. It’s a good idea to use a different color when explaining the error and reworking the problem correctly. You can use these notes when you try a similar exercise.

This notebook will be one of your first resources when you start to prepare for your exams – you can look over your errors and comments, and this will help you to avoid making similar errors on your exam. Reflecting on your work is one of the best ways to truly understand mathematics, or any subject for that matter.

By the way, one of the most common misuses of MyMathLab is committed by students who simply try to guess the answer, looking for patterns from previously missed exercises. First, you will not get to use this strategy when you take your pencil-and-paper exam. Your instructor won’t say “No, that’s wrong. Guess again.” Second, we assign MyMathLab exercises to help you understand the material. The goal is not to view the assignment as a mundane task that you have to get through, nor should your goal be to get the highest score you can with the least effort and thought.

MyMathLab Learning Aids
MyMathLab comes loaded with some fantastic learning aids, but they must be used in the proper fashion. These aids are intended to help you understand the material, not just to help you get through your assignments without thinking. Keep in mind that these aids will not be there to assist you while taking a pencil-and-paper exam, so you must be sure that you truly understand the material.

View an Example
Using this aid is similar to looking at an example in your textbook while trying to solve a homework problem from the textbook. Be careful about trying to mimic what is shown in the example to make a guess at the correct answer to the exercise you are working on. In other words, do not try to “copy and paste” your way through the assignment by using the View an Example learning aid. If the example helps you to solve your problem, you should try a similar exercise before moving on to the next exercise.

Help Me Solve This
Using this learning aid is similar to requesting help from a good tutor. This learning aid will walk you through the problem you are trying to solve, asking you for input as you make your way through the problem. It is highly interactive, and helps to develop your intuition by modeling the little voice that should be in your head while solving problems. (View an Example is very passive by comparison.)

As with any learning aid (like a tutor, a solutions manual, a study partner, …) be careful not to depend too heavily on the Help Me Solve This learning aid. While taking your pencil-and-paper exam, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to walk up to your instructor and say “I’m not sure how to solve this problem. Can you walk me through it step-by-step?” If you use this feature on each and every problem, you will most likely not be prepared for your exam.

Once you have finished solving the problem, MyMathLab will generate a similar problem for you to solve. Be sure that you completely understand each and every step when using the MyMathLab Help Me Solve This learning aid. The goal is understanding the material, not just getting through the assignment as quickly and effortlessly as you can. If you get your new problem correct, consider trying a similar exercise to be sure that you do understand how to solve this type of problem.

This learning aid is quite helpful to a visual learner as well as an auditory learner. You can view a video segment of an instructor solving a problem that is similar to the problem you are working on. Some students learn best by watching and others learn while listening, and these video segments address both types of students. You can pause the video for a moment of reflection, to try part of a problem on your own, or to supplement your notes with helpful pointers.

Watching the entire video lecture for a textbook section is an excellent warm-up before starting a homework assignment. You can find these videos in your MyMathLab course by going to Chapter Contents, and then clicking on the chapter and section you wish to view. You will get to see one example for each objective being covered in the section. The video lectures are quite helpful if you missed a classroom lecture by your instructor, but they are not intended to replace your classroom lecture. Don’t skip a class because you can always view a video at a later time.

Ask My Instructor
This learning aid sends a snapshot of your homework problem to your instructor. The exercises in MyMathLab are randomly generated, so each person sees a different problem #7. This learning aid lets your instructor see the exact problem you are working on. If you think you have the right answer but MyMathLab is marking it incorrect it may be because you are not typing your answer in the correct format or notation. Your instructor can detect this and let you know what is going wrong.

There is a box in which you can type a question for your instructor. Phrase your question as clearly as possible; letting your instructor know exactly what part of the problem you are struggling with. Don’t just type “I don’t get this.” or “HELP???!!!” By explaining what you’ve tried, what you don’t understand, or on which part of the problem you require help, you are giving your instructor a chance to help you to truly understand the problem.

This learning aid will open pages in an e-textbook that are related to the problem you are trying to solve. The textbook pages are taken directly from the textbook you are using in this class. Read any explanations that relate to the topic you are currently working on. Read over the examples that are related, making sure that you truly understand each step along the way. It would be a good idea to try to solve the example problem yourself before heading back to your MyMathLab assignment.
By the way, the entire textbook can be found in MyMathLab under Chapter Contents.

This learning aid is a computer generated animation that is designed to help you understand the general topic associated with the problem you are trying to solve. Sometimes we need to look at a topic in a different way before we can understand it. The animations give you that opportunity.

Additional Practice
One last thing I will mention is the Study Plan feature in MyMathLab. Begin by taking the practice test that the publisher provides for the chapter you are working on. After MyMathLab scores your practice test, it will create a study plan for you, which is a listing of problems that you should practice which are related to the problems you missed on the practice test. Inside your study plan, these problems will have a pencil icon next to them.

My students use the study plan to find additional practice problems as they prepare for their exam. The learning aids that are available with MyMathLab homework exercises are available while you work on problems from your study plan.

I hope you find these suggestions to be helpful. If you have any questions, leave a comment for me and I will be happy to get back to you. Also, for additional information, be sure to check out my website .
Best of Luck,


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Thoughts on Using MyMathLab to Supplement a Traditional Math Class Spring Break Thought

3 Comments Add your own

  • […] MyMathLab is a great way to get students the practice that they need, but students can do well with MyMathLab homework and still struggle on exams. This could be due to students over-relying on the learning aids such as “Show an Example” or “Help Me Solve This”. Students also could be “gaming” MyMathLab, looking for patterns in the answers to the algorithmically generated problems. (For pointers for how students can use MyMathLab effectively, check out this earlier blog.) […]

  • 2. Kelly  |  January 11, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Hi, George!

    How long do you leave each HW assignment open? Does a HW assignment open after each class meeting and close by the next class meeting, or do you leave all the assignments open until a certain cut-off date?

    I appreciate any advice you have about assigning HW on MyMathLab. The tips in your article were excellent!

    Thank you!

    • 3. georgewoodbury  |  January 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Hi Kelly,
      Thanks for the kind words!
      I try to open up each assignment the night before I cover the material. Depending on the class, I either set the deadline to be the night after I cover the material or 2 nights after I cover the material. This gives the students a chance to ask questions in class.


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