Suggestions for Reading a Math Book
Reading technical material does not come easily. It takes practice and dedication to get the most out of it, just as it does to get the most out of James Joyce or Toni Morrison. As time goes on, you should find it getting easier and easier. In the meanwhile, keep these suggestions nearby and re-read them frequently.
- Expect reading to take time - but it's worth it. Reading the text well will make class more meaningful and your homework easier. Reading the text "well" does not mean that you've understood everything (yet). It does mean that you have given thought to why every line in the text is true (more on this below). In general, expect to spend nearly as much time on your weekly reading as you do on your problem sets. (The more genuine effort you put into reading, the less time you'll spend on problem sets.)
- Pay attention to graphs and tables. Graphs and tables are part of the reading. Make sure that if the text refers to a figure, you understand what the figure shows, and how the text relates.
- Read with pencil, paper, and calculator. Check all the authors' calculations.
If they ask you to do something, do it!!!! If you don't understand how they get from one sentence to the next, they probably left out some details. Try to figure out the connection! Don't write too much in your book, because it will become cluttered and hard to re-read or study from.
- Try reading aloud. Sometimes, a sentence will make no sense to you. Often, you simply need to read it aloud.
- Reflect. Periodically pause and ruminate on what you've read. How does it fit together? How does it tie in with subjects we've discussed in the past? Why is it important?
- Make a list of questions. As you're reading, make a list of questions on a separate sheet of paper. Then go back and re-read, and try to figure out the answers to your questions.
- Re-read each section. Math prose is not light reading, and you will need to re-read it to get the most out of it. It's also important to re-read each section after we discuss it in class, as well as before. You'll find that by doing this, you reach a much deeper understanding of the material.
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