Questions with answers
Why did I take a placement test?
We ask nearly all incoming students to take a "calculus-readiness" placement test so that we can advise each student as best as we can on which mathematics class to take. The test consists of questions about basic algebra and pre-calculus skills. We expect that you have mastered these skills from your high school math classes. In your math class(es) at UC Merced, you will do mathematics that is much different from that in high school and on the placement test. At UC Merced, we will teach you to study mathematics more deeply.
What do I need to do to succeed in my math class?
UC Merced mathematics classes are comprised of a number of exams including a final exam, homework and participation in discussion sections. To earn a good grade in a mathematics class at UC Merced, you must perform well on exams, homework assignments and participate actively in discussion sections. There is no substitute.
To succeed in a mathematics class at UC Merced, you need to learn (1) how to solve a mathematics problem and (2) why mathematics works the way it does. To learn these two things, you need to gain experience by solving lots of problems.
What kind of exams do you give?
On our exams, we ask students to solve a variety of problems and some conceptual questions. We have posted all exams from our lower division mathematics courses. We recommend that you look them over so you can understand what to expect on our exams.
Each instructor is responsible for writing their exams. However, the instructors routinely have other faculty and their teaching assistants look over the exams to help ensure fairness. The applied mathematics faculty takes these exams very seriously. We do all we can to ensure that you have a fair exam and that they are graded fairly.
How can I study for the exams?
The key to performing well on the exams is to practice solving problems -- lots of them. Solving problems reveals the depth of your understanding. It helps you identify your struggles in the material. It helps you to frame questions to your instructor, TA, tutor or peer in a way that helps you most. Learning mathematics means doing mathematics. Just as a violinist must practice scales and a basketball player must practice free-throws, a mathematics student needs to practice solving problems.
We ask students often after taking an exam, "In studying for exams, did you work, in detail, old homework (and in-class) problems? Did you attempt practice problems and consult with the instructor, TA or tutor about your solutions?" We typically find that students in math classes who had really worked through those problems (not just read them over or had them shown to you by someone else) were able to handle most of the exam questions routinely. In fact, we often select a homework problem word-for-word on our exams.
Do you grade "on a curve"?
Technically, no. We determine your grade for the class by looking over all of your exam scores, your homework scores and class participation records. From that entire portfolio, we determine your final grade. We determine your grade in this way so that we can take into account better various situations such as a student who has shown marked improvement during the semester.
Moreover, we do not believe in pre-assigning how many students will get A's, B's, C's and so on. If everyone does exceptionally well in a math class, then everyone should get good grades. We prefer that students work together to help each other achieve the best grades they can rather than have students compete against each other for limited spots on the "curve."
What do you provide to help me reach my goals?
There are several levels of support to help you reach your academic goals in mathematics classes at UC Merced.
Your instructor delivers the main content of the class in lecture. In lecture, your instructor will introduce each new concept and reinforce this new concept through solving example problems. Your instructor assigns you homework problems so that you can practice solving problems and learn where you are having difficulty.
In discussion sections, we have teaching assistants guide you through worksheets where you work in groups with your classmates to solve more problems to help you get practice solving problems and working with the new concepts. Discussion sections are also a good place to ask your teaching assistant questions about homework. Your teaching assistant may also administer a quiz to help assess where you are having difficulty.
Both your instructor and your teaching assistant have office hours. Office hours are set hours during the week where you can meet with your instructor or teaching assistant individually to ask questions. Very often, instructors and teaching assistants hold extra office hours on exam weeks to give you even more opportunity to help you with your questions.
Office hours are probably the best-kept secret resource for students, even though we try to advertise them all of the time! Office hours are for all students. In addition, there are other positive reasons to go to office hours. For example, students who come to office hours get to know their instructor well which can lead to a positive learning experience. In addition, a student who comes to office hours shows clearly to the instructor that they are really involved in the class. For this reasons, going to office hours can actually help you earn a better grade in the class!
In addition, the Student Advising and Learning Center provides free tutoring (see http://learning.ucmerced.edu/). We recommend highly that you take advantage of this valuable resource.
Why have you chosen to do things the way you do?
The applied mathematics faculty at UC Merced have chosen to teach our mathematics classes in this way to help you best reach your academic goals. Mathematics is an important part of many majors here at UC Merced. Mathematics classes are fundamental to helping you succeed in learning advanced material that you will encounter as you pursue your academic goals. We know that many students find mathematics challenging and frustrating. We have set up our mathematics classes to help you overcome any challenges you may face in learning mathematics. Everything that we do in our mathematics courses is to help your learn mathematics, you need to take control, ownership and responsibility for your academic career.
Whom should I contact if I am frustrated with my instructor's teaching style?
We suggest first that you have a discussion with your instructor to see if you can resolve your issue directly. However, if you do not feel comfortable discussing this issue with your instructor, we suggest talking with your teaching assistant about the problem. Very often you and your teaching assistant can work to resolve the problem together. If you find that discussion is not sufficient, we suggest next contacting the Natural Sciences Mathematics Coordinator. The Math Coordinator will bring up your issue with the faculty in charge of the undergraduate mathematics curriculum and anyone else for whom your issue is relevant such as your academic advisor.
Whom should I contact if I am frustrated with my teaching assistant's teaching style?
We suggest first that you have a discussion with your teaching assistant to see if you can resolve your issue directly. However, if you do not feel comfortable discussing this issue with your teaching assistant, we suggest talking with your instructor. Very often you and your instructor can work to resolve the problem together. If you find that this discussion is not sufficient, we suggest next contacting the Natural Sciences Mathematics Coordinator. The Math Coordinator will bring up your issue with the faculty in charge of the undergraduate mathematics curriculum and anyone else for whom your issue is relevant such as your academic advisor.
Do you have any other advice for me?
At some point in college, most students discover that their study habits from high school don't work well anymore. You may find that to be true for your mathematics class(es) at UC Merced. Even those students who have taken Calculus in high school are likely to be surprised by the amount of work that we require. Don't be discouraged! This is an encouraging sign that you are growing intellectually. Try to figure out what does work for you. Some helpful hints include:
Manage your time wisely! Plan to spend at least two hours outside of each lecture and discussion section working with the materia
Utilize your instructor's and teaching assistant's office hours regularly (see Question 6).
Be mindful of the time it takes to complete a problem. Speed is not the most important factor in your success in this course. However, there is a time limit to every homework assignment and exam. So, to some extent, you are graded based on your ability to solve problems in a timely manner. Practice through solving lots of problems is the key.
Be engaged in the class and discussion sections. Attend all lectures and discussion sections, and ask questions when you have them - don't wait until later.
As you practice solving problems, always try to understand the "why" behind the methods you use. Exams will be written to test your understanding of the methods, not your ability to follow a "recipe" for solving a particular problem.