You don’t need to wait for your teacher’s instruction to learn Math.
If you could understand plain English and have access to the Internet, then you can definitely study Math on your own.
When you do this, you’ll learn that there’s no one who can teach you faster and better than yourself.
Not your professor, not your classmate.
Just you. But how exactly do you do it?
In this post, you will learn:
- The Right Mindset for LONG-TERM SUCCESS
- 10 ACTIONABLE Steps to Study Math on Your OWN
- The BEST Resources for Teaching Yourself Math
- How you can take your Math Knowledge to the NEXT LEVEL
Let’s get started.
Can you self-study Math?
Many people think that studying Math requires you to be taught by a professor at school. With the abundance of free information, lectures, syllabi, ebooks, and MOOCS around, you can certainly self-study Math. The best part is, you do it at your own pace.
No strict schedules, just self-commitment.
The thing is, though, you got to have the proper mindset before starting.
Remember when you’re just starting out doing subtraction?
How about when you were just starting out in Algebra?
In both cases, there’s a high chance that you were NOT instantly good at them.
You had to focus intently on solving the problems and actually take the time to think about them.
But look at you! You’re just doing everything in your head now!
The time you spent practicing those fundamentals is the price you pay for having that skill you have now.
In addition, you should realize that even the smart kids did the same damn thing! They just did it much faster.
The point is, you got to think that your effort NOW will make you better tomorrow and on the next days to come–no matter how smart you think you are.
That, my friend, is called the Growth Mindset.
Have a growth mindset, and you’ll be on your way to making yourself a master of anything.
Steps to Studying Math on Your Own
I’m going to interrupt you for a bit to make something clear: I created this guide to help people who feel like they’re lagging with their Math skills and want to review it, or people who just want to study Math on their own for some reason.
Each example that I’ll give you is just that–a mere example to help you visualize/conceptualize my point. It’s still up to you to apply these steps to your own situation.
Begin with the end in mind
Math builds upon itself.
You can’t certainly study Integral Calculus without being taught some Algebra, don’t you think?
So, if you have the Integral Calculus as your “end”, you should assess:
“What subjects are the prerequisites of this subject?”
In my own study, I often ask myself a “skill” based question, rather than a topical one.
“What skills do I have to learn to get better at this one?”
Problem Solving is a skill, after all. You can’t get better at problem-solving if you don’t have the tools to solve one.
And those tools are the individual topics, or should I say “skills” that help you solve a higher, more complex problem.
Which brings me to my next point.
Decide Your Topic using a Curriculum
Now that you have determined your end subject, it’s now time to decide which general topic to start with.
For example, Calculus and its applications are easier if you have the knowledge of Analytic Geometry and Trigonometry.
But Analytic Geometry has some Trigonometry elements included.
So, you can decide to start with Trigonometry.
However, if you don’t have the knowledge of “which is the prerequisite of which” I highly recommend that you find an online curriculum.
Here’s one good roadmap for someone who’s learning Math for Data Science.
Find a Syllabus
If you’re lost, you go to Google Maps.
So what do you do when you don’t have a roadmap or a sequence to learn Math?
Use an already-designed Syllabus. They’ll be the roadmap to your self-studying success.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, these can be easily found online.
I mean, just a single Google Search will give you what you’re looking for.
Or, you can just look at your university’s resources and check syllabi for Math subjects.
Gather your References, Solution Manuals, and “Solved Problems” Types of Books
Conventional Math learning requires that you go to school, attend classes, do your homework, and then wait for it to be checked before you complete the feedback loop.
I say that’s highly inefficient.
When there are solution manuals or Solved Problems types of books available, it’s better to actually use them side-by-side to your own problem-solving routine.
For this one, I like the “Schaum’s Outlines” series of books.
The problems are rather hard, the discussions are concise and straight to the point, but you’ll certainly get better at problem-solving EASILY.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that you should look at the solutions each and every time you’re solving a problem, but whenever you get stuck, you can easily get out and actually learn the solutions faster.
This tight feedback loop is what will allow us to learn math FAST and at our OWN pace.
“What if I don’t understand the material?”
It’s either you don’t have the prerequisites mastered (or not at all), or you’re using an overly complicated book.
Lastly, common sense says that this guide is not the “end-all-be-all” of self-studying Math. You can always consult others when you really get stuck even when you have a solution manual (perhaps it has a typo error or something).
This is brought out by the point raised above, which is to use solution manuals for learning Math to create a quick feedback loop.
However, it’s highly misunderstood by some students.
They feel that when they can memorize how a difficult problem is solved, then that’s good.
It’s a BIG mistake to memorize something you don’t understand.
Relevantly, it’s also a BIG mistake to just understand something but you don’t practice it.
Learn WHY the steps work, because if you do this, you learn once, and solve many.
Put Links to Resources in One Place
Since you’re going to be mainly self-studying using Digital Resources, it’s handy to have them all in one place.
Perhaps make them your browser’s homepage.
Make a shortcut or something.
The thing is: make it SO easy for you to access your resources so that you don’t feel friction when you want to study on your own.
This makes it easier to form your study habits–which is always better in the long run.
Set aside time for BOTH studying and problem-solving
As I’ve mentioned earlier, just understanding isn’t enough.
You have to practice what you’ve learned.
Just as a beginner can’t play a piano masterpiece instantly after someone good teaches him how to do it, learning new things in Math doesn’t happen with your “aha” moments.
Learning happens when you recall information from your head, not when you’re trying to put things in there.
So, aside from your “absorbing” time, set aside time for practice.
Cultivate Deep Work
While practicing, it’s important that you do so without distraction.
Working without internal and external distractions and focusing deliberately on the task at hand, aka Deep Work, improves how your neurons fire together when activated.
This happens because a sheath called myelin is formed whenever you retrieve a piece of information or practice a skill.
When your attention is channeled into practicing problem-solving, you effectively tell your brain that ONLY those neurons activated during problem-solving should be sheathed with myelin.
When you’re distracted, however, this phenomenon happens poorly, and learning chunks don’t form very well.
Avoid Learning and Revision Myths
Relistening as an auditory learner? Rereading as a visual learner? Re-writing as a kinesthetic learner?
Sorry to tell you, but these revision strategies, although most commonly used and seen by many students, are just a waste of time (as revision strategies).
If it was just that easy, then those who re-read their notes should be scoring the highest marks in Mathematics.
Those who mindlessly rewrite solutions should be the straight-A students.
But that’s certainly not the case.
There’s a lot of these myths around, and I’ve compiled them for you in two posts.
To make it worth your while, I’ve added a TON of valuable information about learning science and how our memory works. Check it out here:
Avoid “Practice, Practice, Practice”, Do This Instead
This is probably the most common advice given to students who ask “how do I get better at Math?”.
We don’t need more time to practice. We just need to practice better.
Practicing is certainly vital, but there are two kinds of practice: Unproductive, and Productive Practice.
If you do everything in a long stretch of time, infrequently during the week, and just repeating the same problem for multiple times until you “get it” before moving on to the next one, then that’s Unproductive Practice.
Productive Practice is smart practice.
Here’s how to do it. Two EASY Steps.
- Spread your practice throughout the day, and throughout the week
- When you get the basic idea of a concept, don’t answer multiple problems with the same solution; answer multiple, unrelated problems. (Interleaving)
By doing these, you’re saving a TON of time and energy into learning your Math.
Who says learning Math should be tedious, and time-consuming?
Resources for Studying Mathematics by Yourself
While I’m researching for this article, I’ve found some resources that I think would certainly help you in your self-study quest.
Here are some of the best ones I found:
How to Teach Yourself Math by Scott Young
Scott Young is the man.
When it comes to self-learning, he’s definitely THE go-to guy.
He finished a 4-year CS course at MIT in just 12 months, after all, so I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about.
How to Learn More Advanced Mathematics (FREE Resources)
If you want to take your Mathematics Knowledge to the next level, here are some helpful links.
I can’t teach you myself so here are better resources that discuss the topic:
- How to Learn Advanced Mathematics Without Heading to University
- Quora – How can I best learn advanced mathematics on my own?
- Here’s How to Teach Yourself Physics and Math
- Essential Math for Data Science
Do you have any experience in self-studying math?
Let us know in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading.