For college students returning to school after a long hiatus, algebra can seem as foreign as online learning itself.

“People say math is like another language, and I think that’s true, but algebra concepts and lingo are very relevant in the real world,” explains Assistant Professor Holly Ourso, who facilitates the University of Arizona Global Campus MAT 221 Introduction to Algebra course. “For students who haven’t had algebra for a while, MAT 221 gets them back into an algebra frame of mind and gives them the tools they need to succeed.” 

What is MAT 221?

One of several math courses for Global Campus students, MAT 221 establishes a strong base for an Algebraic exploration of mathematical topics and allows you to develop a familiarity and ease of working with the language and notation of Algebra while learning to think logically through algorithms and problem-solving methods.

In the five-week MAT 221 course, you will use ALEKS, a customized computer learning tool that tailors the learning experience to you. There is no final exam, and you are able to retake ALEKS homework assignments, so only your best score counts toward your grade.

Still, the idea of taking algebra — especially if you haven’t taken a math class since high school — can be daunting. Math anxiety, as many students know, is a widely-researched condition that has been described as a “vicious cycle” in which negative emotions are linked to poor performance in math and vice versa.

Recognizing that anxiety about algebra often presents a bigger obstacle than the course itself, Ourso has devised what she calls a “recipe to earn a good grade” in MAT 221. What are the ingredients, you ask? To get it right, you need the perfect ratio of advice and insight from faculty and your peers, mixed with a little help from resources readily available from Global Campus.

Here, we have combined Ourso’s tips with the best advice from successful students so you can pass the course with confidence.

How to Succeed in MAT 221: What the Professor Says

One of the first things students will notice when they begin MAT 221 is the tutorial videos. The majority of the videos were created by Ourso, and they can be useful throughout each phase of the course. To that, she’s added four specific tips for succeeding on the first try:  

1. Start early.

While MAT 221 (like all Global Campus classes) officially starts on a Tuesday, you will have access to your next class the Friday before. This gives you a wider window to start early and become familiar with the concepts involved.

“If you work a typical 9-to-5 schedule, you may already find that your best time to work on school is the weekend,” Ourso says. “So, if you start the Friday before, you could be working the whole weekend, and that dramatically lowers anxiety for many learners.”

2. Lean on your support network

“No person is an island,” Ourso says. “It’s a good idea to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to share your victories and frustrations, and my guess is every person in the class is going to have a little of both.”

3. Follow the ALEKS examples and tutorials

From time to time you may find yourself stuck on a problem in your ALEKS lab. You can click on “Explanation” and “Another Explanation” to see ways you can solve your problem. If those don’t work, click on the “Textbook” icon and you’ll be taken to the section of your text that covers the topic. Lastly, if you click on the video thumbnail in the top left corner, you can see a video in which the teacher shows you how to work out your problem. You should follow these examples like a recipe, Ourso suggests, writing out your work step-by-step, with each step on a new line.

4. Double-check your answers

Nothing is more frustrating than getting the right answer after effective study and still missing the problem because of a typo.

"My students tell me their grades benefit from slowing down enough not to make careless copy errors," Ourso explains. “And it's easy to drop a negative sign or copy the number 2 as a 3, which can throw the entire solution off. You might save yourself frustration when double-checking that the answer you got makes sense; if a ticket price comes out negative or the turtle appears to run faster than the rabbit, then give those answers a second look.”

5. Don’t stay stuck too long

Nothing can be more frustrating than wasting valuable time on a problem that isn’t going to be solved anytime soon. If you spend 20 minutes on a single problem, Ourso says, you should dial up your study partner or tutor to save time and headaches. Also, remember to write everything out and show your work to your instructor so you can determine where you may have made an error and learn from your mistake.

How to Succeed in MAT 221: What Students Say 

Much of the most valuable advice comes from students who have already gone through the MAT 221 experience successfully, so we posed the following question in our *Connections Facebook Group:
“If you could give one or a few pieces of advice, tip/tricks, or recommendations to a student who’s about to take MAT 221, what would it be?”

Below are the top recommendations for conquering the course with confidence:

1. Use every resource available:

“Taking college-level math classes can be scary. I was terrified before taking this class. My one piece of advice would be to not be afraid to use additional resources for guidance. I relied on them to gain better understanding of the material. I passed with an A. Don’t give up!” – Lisa B.

2. Take notes:

“The most important thing you can do is take notes. Use OneNote to screenshot, copy, and paste textbook sections; and save YouTube links that reference the material you are learning. Even if the information is not clear to you, just take a note of it. This will help you going forward. Also, make sure you take screenshots of your homework and save them as an example to match to the notes you take.” – Adam B.

3. Ask for help:

“Stay on track. Reach out for help. Your instructor is your best teammate.” – Kathryn N.

4. Embrace your tutor:

“I didn't understand what a polynomial was until I went to read the eBook and got help from a tutor. You can find great help from them. The tutor makes it easier to understand part two of this discussion.” - Lovelillie C.

5. Watch every video:

“Week 5 was beating me up. I was so confused with all the terms and different methods of solving for the polynomials. Once again the videos helped me get through the problems.” - Patricia M.

6. Visualize success:

“Best advice I ever got was from my advisor and it was, ‘Math is difficult, but so is every other class you take here, but like every other class, to succeed you have to dig deep, see the prize, and use the sources out there!’ I used tutors and reached out to my professor all the time. I honestly feel that is the best! At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is an A or a C. If you do your very best, that is what makes the difference. I passed with an A, but I worked super hard and used the sources around me.” – Susan H.

7. Most importantly… breathe:

“Breathe first and foremost and be sure to take needed breaks and stretch. Don’t overdo yourself by doing everything last-minute. Keep telling yourself that you can do this!” – Nicole D.

8. Take your time: 

“Pace yourself and commit to doing daily work. That class requires a lot more time and effort just to get through all the content.” – TraVae C.

9. Don’t fall behind:

“Re: the ALEKS lab; work ahead!” – Nicky C.

10. Stay calm:

“Don't panic. There is help everywhere for you; don’t be afraid to ask for it.” – Mary E.C.

11. Relax, but eliminate distractions: 

“Grab a drink. Turn off your phone. Chat with a live tutor early in the course.” Bikutā E.

12. Remember, math can be fun

“I understand how frustrating math can be when you do not understand how to do a procedure, but I always remember how fun it can be, once you have gotten the criteria down pat.” Luis M.

10 Essential Algebra Tips for Success

Fortunately, unlike some of your other courses, math is universal. When you add two plus two, you will always get four. While algebra follows basic laws, the challenge is understanding (and later explaining) the process and steps you need to take to solve the problem. The above tips and advice will help with your confidence, and the following will provide some help as you move forward in your course.

Remember these 10 essentials, and you’ll be well on your way to that A!:

  1. If you can add and subtract, you can do algebra.
  2. Always work from left to right.
  3. Start by solving the problems in parentheses. Also, memorize the mnemonic “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, which, in algebra, means Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. This is your roadmap to the answer. 
  4. When multiplying a negative and a positive number, the answer will always be negative, and when multiplying two negatives, the answer will be positive. The same rule applies for division.
  5. Solving a complicated equation often involves rearranging the sequence so that the variable – the “x” or “y” – is left on its own. Then follow the steps to add, subtract, multiply, or divide both sides of the equation until the variable is isolated on one side. When you have your answer, you can place it into the variable to determine if you’ve answered the question correctly. 
  6. If a problem has more than one variable, only solve one variable at a time. 
  7. If you change a value on one side of the equation, you must do it on the other side, too. To add or subtract a term, your terms must be like terms, which have the same variable. However, to multiply or divide terms, you do not have to have like terms.
  8. You can only cancel a factor of the numerator with a factor of the denominator if they are exactly the same.
  9. Mind your distribution. If there is an exponent on the outside of the parentheses and addition or subtraction on the inside of the parentheses, you cannot distribute the exponent.
  10. Keep your work organized and start a new line every time you take a step toward solving the problem.

Your MAT 221 Student Resource Checklist

Knowing where to turn if you run into an algebra roadblock can spare you some frustration, and Ourso recommends keeping all these resources on-hand throughout your MAT 221 experience.

“You may not anticipate needing these, but it’s better to have support lined up and not need it, then to need it and not have it,” she notes.

1. 24/7 tutoring:

Help is only a click away when you use the “Tutor on Demand” button that’s accessible through your Student Portal.

2. CHAMPS mentors:

The Global Campus CHAMPS Peer Mentoring program pairs high-achieving student mentors with mentees who need assistance, and through CHAMPS you can specifically request a mentor who has already found success in MAT 221.

3. In-class study partners

Look for another student in class who is similar to you in some way, Ourso suggests. “For example, when I learned this level of algebra, I used a study partner, and we worked together all of the time,” she says. “When one of us was stuck on a concept and the other had to explain it, we both benefitted.”

4. Study guides:

UAGC professors are always there to offer you guidance, and for her part, Ourso makes it a habit to supply students with a PowerPoint presentation of helpful MAT 221 tips the Friday before class begins. 

Algebra is Everywhere

Algebra might not be everywhere, but algebra concepts and language can be found in health care, education, and law, among other careers, Ourso explains. Having a foundational knowledge of these concepts can help you succeed long after graduation, and rather than looking at MAT 221 as an obstacle, she encourages students to put a positive spin on their fears.

“Instead of telling yourself, ‘I’ll never be good at math,’ what you should say is, ‘My math knowledge is growing every day, and I’m getting better every day I take this course,’” Ourso concludes. 

Following this advice is sure to help you stay on track and pass with ease. Be sure to check back for more study tips, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram, where we will be posting weekly advice on the hottest topics from making the grade to landing your next gig.


Written by University Staff

* Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus

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