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Mathematics in the Summer? How to Succeed in College by Really Trying (Part 2)

Summer Study for Math

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

My last blog post discussed the fact that students don’t understand the connection between Accuplacer scores and remedial college courses until they meet with an advisor and see how many non-credit-bearing courses they will have to take. Although some colleges allow a good high school GPA to substitute for remedial math courses, using high school courses as a proxy is much more common for English than math. It’s generally easier to study English on your own than math, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your math skills. You may not be pursuing a STEM major, but you will still need to take math courses. Not only do you need basic math skills for everyday living, but you will need math skills for many majors including accounting, trades and social sciences. Keep in mind that the skills you build now are the foundation of success in college.

Start with a basic self-assessment

Where do your test results place you? What skills do you need to build? How much time do you want to commit? First, analyze your scores. If your elementary algebra score is low, some schools will require you to take the basic arithmetic test. Most schools give algebra first and some skip arithmetic entirely. Once you get your scores, meet with a counselor and see what you need to do to improve. Make sure you are familiar with your college’s rules for your major. Some schools have different requirements for STEM versus non-STEM majors. If your algebra score is not too far from the cutoff, see if you can just re-take it. A little study could save you a lot of time and money. You really have to know your school’s specific requirements, because they differ from school to school.

Another thing to check is which version of the Accuplacer your school is using, and when. The Accuplacer is changing this academic year. The current Accuplacer, now called “classic,” will be available until January 28, 2019, but many schools will begin using the new “Next-Generation” Accuplacer tests in the fall of 2018. You probably took the old “classic” version this past spring. The Next-Generation tests are more difficult, so you might want to study up and re-take the “classic” this fall while you still can.

My advice for test review is the same as in my last post about building English skills. If you don’t have a lot of time, familiarizing yourself with test questions is an easy way to boost your score. There are two ways to practice the test. To take Classic Accuplacer tests this summer or early fall, click here to review sample questions. But if you are taking the Next-Generation tests, click here and select each subject for sample next generation questions. For a more analytical approach, use the free study app for students, login and sign up for free practice. This app will give you a diagnostic test which will analyze your strengths and weaknesses. You will have two choices: just do the practice test, or learn as you go. I advise students to choose the “learn as you go” option to get immediate feedback and detailed explanations. Then repeat the test in the sample test mode.

There are many resources to help you build your math skills

NROC’s EdReady is a comprehensive free math program. This program is not available as an app, but you can use the browser-based version on your phone. The first thing you do in EdReady is choose your goal. Your choice guides your study path. If you have made a final decision on a school, you can see if the software provides a specific path for your college. Otherwise, you can select from several paths. If you just want to concentrate on building general skills for college, select College Readiness. You can also select exam-specific paths such as Common Placement exams, SAT or ACT.

For any of these choices, EdReady gives you an initial diagnostic test to guide your study path. After you finish your test, you can go to the study path and choose what you want to study. If you feel that you already have mastered a topic, you can skip the presentation, review, and practice and try to test out of it. You may get stuck on a topic, but keep at it. If you have a friend who likes math, ask that person for help if you get stuck. Another way to get help is a free app called Photomath. You just take a picture of your math problem and it provides detailed step-by-step solutions. You can also access the browser-based version here. Another free app that works the same way is Socratic Math & Homework Help accessible on your browser. These apps will help when you get stuck, but don’t rely on the problem solver apps too much. Reasoning and application are essential components of building math skills, so try to figure out the problem on your own first.

There are many free or inexpensive apps you can download on your phone.

Summer Study for Math


A great free app is ck-12. This app has many subjects and offers activities for students with different learning styles. In each topic there are exercises, videos, games and free textbook excerpts. You can also use this on your computer found here.


One of the best low-cost game apps is DragonBox Algebra 12+ ($7.99). This app uses games and puzzles to teach algebra. Students can work through a variety of topics and have some fun while studying. To buy this app, go to the app store on your phone. You can also use your computer to study by clicking here.

King of Math

Another popular free or cheap app is King of Math. There is a free version and a full version for $2.99. This app also uses games to build math skills. The topics cover basic review through pre-algebra. This app could be a good starting point. It is designed for a younger audience, but you may have fun with the content. You can also use it for free in the browser-based version.

Varsity Tutors

For comprehensive multiple choice practice, try High School Math Practice by Varsity Tutors. The app is free and it can help you build your skills or prepare for a specific test. This app offers many diagnostic tests and practice in all areas of high school math. You can also use this program on your computer by clicking here.

Studying math on your own can be difficult, but there are some guidelines

First of all, be honest with yourself about what you need to work on. Do you think you understand slope, but you still get the wrong answer? You may understand the equation but your incorrect answer might be due to a weakness in signed numbers. Check the equation on a calculator and see if your answer is correct. Then analyze your error to see where you are making mistakes. You want to build your foundation skills so you can advance. Don’t skip any steps.

Studying math is like building a house: you have to start on the ground floor. Make sure your study environment is distraction-free. You may like to study with music, but math requires very intense concentration. If you’re rapping along, you might not be getting the full benefit of the instruction. Some students actually study better with music, but you should still practice studying in silence. In college, there will be many times when you are taking a test and you won’t have access to music, so get used to working without it. Constant practice is very important. It is more beneficial to study a shorter amount of time and have sessions more frequently. If you only study once or twice a week, your progress will be slower because you will have to spend time reviewing. You can also try listening to the demonstrations in your online study program. Listen to the concept explanation, look at the equation and pause the lecture. Try working through the problem on your own before watching the solution. Compare your process to the demonstration so you can identify where you’re having problems. Finally, give yourself a reward after you’ve done a certain amount of studying. You deserve it!

Learning math might seem like an insurmountable task, but don’t get discouraged. There are so many online options, you just have to find the program that works best for you. Regular practice is your best friend. The skills you build now will have both immediate and long term benefits. Studying is an investment in your future. Take my word for it.

Part 1 of this 2-part series found here: How to Succeed in College by Really Trying: Summer Study for the Accuplacer (Part 1)

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