Top Tips for Maths at Warwick
Some of you are asking, “How can I get the most out of lectures?”. This guide is here to show you the methods I’ve learnt over my four years here, so you can maximise the time you spend learning.
Lectures are hard. We need to listen, write and try and understand complex concepts all at once.
My number one piece of advice for incoming students is simple.
I talk to so many students who never built up the courage to start a dialogue with their lectures. In my opinion, this is the most valuable part of university study. Once you start asking questions, you can stop wasting time not understanding a lecture just because something didn’t click in the first five minutes.
The first time I took the plunge was in third year. The lecturer was Diane Maclagan, whose favourite catchphrase was “Questions? Comments? Corrections?”. Against all my fears, she answered my question carefully, without making me feel silly for needing to ask it. After that, I was addicted.
Wondering how you’ll get time to ask questions at the same time as making notes? The answer is simple: make notetaking easy.
Notetaking systems save time and brain power.
I like to use a shorthand system for words that come up frequently in maths. The words I see repeated over and over every lecture are the staples of mathematical language: definition, lemma, proposition, theorem and proof.
Definitions are all the new mathematical words you’ll learn throughout your degree. A theorem is the main claim you want to prove. Propositions and lemmas are like mini theorems used to prove the actual theorem.
When I see a lecturer write “lemma”, I write an “L” and draw a circle round it, and I do a similar thing for propositions and theorems. For proofs, I use a “P” with two circles drawn round it.
I also use highlighters to indicate different types of information.
This system streamlines my notetaking and makes it easy to search through my notes.
A note on paper
There are as many options for where to keep your notes as there are students. I prefer to write on A4 narrow ruled paper (I buy the pads from Wilko or the Rootes Grocery Store) and keep the sheets for each module bound together with a treasury tag. I keep my notes, assignments sheets and solutions in an expanding box file.
Dave Wood, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Maths Institue, made it clear to us in our introductory lecture that “maths is not a spectator sport”. This means that lectures are only the beginning of the learning process.
The real learning of mathematics happens in the doing.
I’m going to make an admission here: I once scored zero in an assignment. I emailed the lecturer, David Mond, and ended up spending over an hour in his office asking questions, going back over the basic concepts, and correcting all the false assumptions I’d made during lectures.
If I hadn’t tried to put my knowledge into practice, I wouldn’t have found that it was flawed.
That module was Algebraic Topology, and it was actually my second favourite of my entire degree! (My favourite was its older sister, Cohomology and Poincaré Duality.) It involves a lot of abstract definitions that need you to play around with them before you can grasp their meaning.
“Sometimes it takes more courage to ask for help than to act alone.”
It can be good to sweat through a problem on your own, but if you just can’t get there, asking someone to explain it to you can open your eyes to new mathematical tricks that you can put to use yourself next time.
These are the people I go to for help:
- My personal tutor
- Older students
You can be the most diligent student in the world, but the truth is, life happens, and sometimes you end up missing a lecture or thirty. You’ve missed the notes and a prime opportunity to ask the lecturer questions. How can you catch up?
Ask friends for notes.
In my experience, if you’ve missed a lecture, your coursemates will be happy to lend you theirs to copy up. A brilliant aspect of having phones with cameras is that they don’t even have to leave you their notes; you can take a picture, give the notes back and write them up later!
If I’m copying up a lecture but still don’t understand it, I’ll check to see if that module has Lecture Capture. Hearing the lecturer talk them through can clarify confusing sections.
Finally, if I’m in a complete mess, I know that I can go to Fiona Linton, the Maths Institute’s Undergraduate and Taught Programmes Manager to work out how to get back on track. She can help source notes if I’m missing a big chunk and provides practical help with things like mitigating circumstances so I can focus on my studies.
What are you really looking forward to for when you start at Warwick? What are your biggest fears? Let me know and I can try and answer any questions in my next post!