Math Study Skills – Reading Ahead

March 2, 2010 at 11:35 am 2 comments

A textbook can be a valuable resource to a mathematics student, although many do not use their textbook other than to find the homework exercises. In this week’s article I will focus on reading ahead to prepare for class, and in next week’s math study skills article I will share my thoughts on reading after class.

Reading Ahead

Most of the learning in a math course takes place inside the classroom. As an instructor, one of my most valuable skills is my ability to explain mathematical concepts and help my students to understand. For students to increase their understanding, a useful strategy is to read ahead in the textbook before class. If a student does not read ahead, the instructor will be introducing the material and the student will be responsible for putting it all together outside of class. If a student does read ahead, the student will have a rough idea about what will be covered in class and the lecture can help to firm up the student’s grasp of the material. Students that read ahead will have already formed some questions in their mind that they can be thinking about during lecture.

How To Read Ahead

Title and Objectives

Begin by looking at the title of the section, this will tell you the main topic that will be covered in the section. Next read through the objectives at the beginning of the section. This will give you more details on exactly what will be covered in the section.

Definitions and Procedures

As you scan through the section look for words in bold that are being defined, and write them down with their definitions. Bring this list to class with you so you can refer to it while your instructor is presenting the material. Be on the lookout for any mathematical procedures that are introduced in the section. The steps for certain procedures are often displayed in a box on the page. Copy all procedures down and bring them to class with you.


Read through each example, making a note each time you do not understand a step. As your instructor presents similar examples in class, the explanations may make things seem clearer. If you still don’t understand, be sure to ask for further explanation. As you read through the examples pay particular attention to the directions. The directions in a textbook are very specific and you must understand what you are being asked to do. By making yourself familiar with the directions before class, you will understand what your instructor is asking you to do. You may also want to take a peak at the directions in the exercise set for the same reason.


Reading ahead in the fashion I’ve described can be an effective way to prepare for class. To increase your understanding and be an active learner, it helps to have a rough idea about the material that will be covered as well as having some questions formulated before class. Reading ahead will require a little of your time, but may actually save you time when you begin your homework because your level of understanding will be higher.

Your Turn

If you are an instructor, I’d like you to share some of your strategies for encouraging students to read ahead in an effective manner.

If you are a student, do you read ahead? If not, why not? If you do, comment on your strategy for reading ahead as well as whether you think it helps your overall performance in your math class.

You can share your comments on this page, or you can email them to me through the contact page on my website – .


I am a mathematics instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. I blog about math study skills every Tuesday. Let me know if there are other topics you’d like me to cover. You can email suggestions through the contact page on my website.


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Whit Ford  |  March 5, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    While I agree with your suggestions, I found reading ahead frustrating in High School and College because:

    1) Many courses did not communicate what was coming up either clearly or accurately enough. I would read ahead, only to learn that the section I had read was going to be skipped, or that we were not going to get to it for another week. It made my efforts feel wasted.

    2) I was often a bit uncertain about what I should focus on in a chapter. It would have been very helpful if teachers had given us a “heads up” along the lines of: “next class we will be discussing section 3.6, with particular attention to example 3 because it is one that generates many questions”.

    3) The ever-growing pile of assignments due each semester also caused reading ahead to make me feel like I was neglecting higher priority tasks at the moment. So I concentrated on closely reading the text of the chapter/section(s) upon which the homework was based before attempting any of the assigned problems.

    If a teacher is using class time to introduce topics as though they are completely new to all, and does it well, then it may be more efficient for a student to read the text after the introductory class.

    I think students will realize the greatest benefit from reading ahead when the teacher is structuring some/all of their classes and assignments around an expectation that students will read ahead. It would probably also help if there were bonus points (or some other incentive) available on quizzes or tests for reading ahead and working to learn material independently (instead of always waiting for someone else to show you how to do it).

    Those are my two cents!

  • […] Reading Ahead How to use your math textbook to prepare for class. […]


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