Collegiate Tutors' Declassified Purdue Survival Guide

Updated: Mar 3

An alumni's advice on how to pass Purdue Math courses like a pro. This is The first in a series of articles to help you succeed.


Step 1:

Figure out your individual learning style (or combination of styles) and know that your friend’s method of listening to lectures while doing laundry may not be the move for you.

  • Kinesthetic learner? If your learning style could be described as "hands-on," then you are probably a kinesthetic learner. Try making your study materials interactive. You can try flashcards or repeat your study materials aloud to yourself while walking. Make connections (visually or conceptually) between concepts and physical things. You may look ridiculous, but humans were made to absorb information on the go. We had to learn how to hunt and gather back in the day and that was all done on foot. (Note that you are reinforcing your learning auditorily as well.)

  • Auditory Learner? Do you remember things you hear better than what you read or see? Try listening to lectures or discuss concepts aloud with your peers to absorb the information you are learning to the fullest.

  • Visual learner? When you try to recall something from memory, do you picture it in your mind such as where something was written in your notes or is printed on a page in a book? Do you like to have someone draw pictures when explaining concepts to you? If so, you are probably a visual learner. Draw diagrams or pictures that will help you remember concepts. Use colors to categorize topics -it’s like color-coordinating the files in your brain. If you need to remember where sine and cosine are positive vs. negative, draw a coordinate system and color in the right half (positive cosine) one color and the top half another (positive sine). Now, instead of remembering values, your brain will show you that image each time you need to remember.

  • Reading/Writing Learner? You’ve probably already found that you understand and retain quite a bit of information from textbooks (lucky you!). To build on that, try taking elaborate notes to refer to later, since focusing your full attention on listening to the lecture itself may not be as optimal for your retention as reading and writing the material in the form of your notes.


Step 2:

Be proactive! The face wash can’t help you with this one… Address where you are weak right away and find solutions before it is too late and you fail a test or dig a GPA-sized hole. People retain information a lot better when they have formed a strong foundation without any holes from the start. This allows more complex information to be added on and better understood closer to the exam.

  • Do better with big-picture understanding? Make sure you understand fundamental concepts clearly (at the beginning of each topic), even if it takes a lot more time on the front end. This will allow all the detail pieces to fit like a puzzle in your brain and you will be able to quickly and easily re-derive the process if you forgot something while sitting in the exam chair.


Step 3:

Time Management -yikes! Studying for 5 hours straight beginning at midnight is more beneficial as a torture method than a studying tactic. Pick a dead hour or two in the middle of the day to designate as “study time” instead of wandering around campus looking for snacks. Either use this time to get a head start on homework, or if you’re feeling ambitious, take a look at upcoming lessons so that when the professor describes them in class, you’re able to build on that framework. This may not seem like a lot of time, but when it replaces your precious evening time that could be used for the fun experiences college life has to offer, it can be a game changer. Don’t let math or physics take over your life or slow you from getting that Purdue FYE degree!


Step 4:

Do, don’t just review. Looking at a math or physics problem and saying “oh, yeah, that makes sense…” is not how you will be tested, so don’t practice that way! That exercises your recognition memory, not your recall. Sit down and take a past exam (ideally under a time limit, maybe even with a tapping shoe and a few backup pencils rolling down your exam board) to really get the relevant practice you’ll need exam day. (https://www.math.purdue.edu/academic/courses/oldexams.php)

  • Another way to exercise your recall memory is to try teaching or tutoring someone else the material. Not only will this test your brain to see how well you can come up with the information (as opposed to recognize it), but it will also help your brain fully understand the concepts behind the numbers and equations. This repetition of actually explaining the material to someone else will help you rationalize the process and will imprint this newfound knowledge and understanding on your brain, which will be quite handy in the exam chair.


Step 5:

Studying should be the cherry on top of your learning; you already understood the material, you’re just refreshing yourself on it. The bulk of this should be done 2-3 nights before the test, when your brain has time to let all the information soak in and "click." Studying before your normal bedtime can also be beneficial for memorization, because your brain will continue to review the material as you sleep, instead of mulling over who's going to formal or whose Reddit comment got the most upvotes.


The night before the exam, after a quick look at any memorization-heavy terms or formulas, sit back, relax, and get to bed at a reasonable time!


Step 6:

Get to the exam early and use the time to relax. Don’t sit there and panic, cramming terms and concepts you think you are forgetting. You already studied; you have the information in your brain. By using this time to center yourself, breathe, and de-stress (as much as humanly possible), you clear your head from all the fog that inevitably seems to follow any FYE student during exam periods. Think about when you’re racing out the door, stressed. How often do you forget your keys, wallet, or coffee? If you don’t let the stress run you out the door empty-handed, you’re probably a lot less forgetful in the mornings! This same concept applies when your fight or flight test-taking stress kicks in.


Step 7:

It’s game time. All those lessons, too much homework, all the studying… it all comes down to performance. It’s time to show what you know and put all that hard work to practice. As stressful as test taking can be, it’s important to realize that if you’ve followed these steps and utilized study tactics tailored to your learning style, you should be prepared to excel in the exam seat. Clear your head and relax… in a few hours, you’ll be celebrating because you prepared in advance and will reap the benefits of that now.


If you do hit a problem that you aren’t too sure about, don’t let it break your stride; move on and finish the test so that you have the time to spend on that one last tricky problem.Spend the majority of your time slaying the easy questions so that you can be sure to lock in all those points.You may even learn or remember something from later questions that will help you unlock the answer to the tricky one.Remember, no one’s perfect, but with enough tactful studying and the help you need from tutors, teachers, or friends, you’re sure to be “that kid who ruins the curve.”Good luck all you test takers, we’re here if you need some help!


Helpful study tips and tricks for Purdue First Year Engineering (FYE) and other courses including: MA16100, MA16200, MA16500, COM114, ENGL10600, ENGR13100, ENGR13200, CHEM 115, PHYS142, PHYS241, MA16010, MA16020, high school math, calculus I, calculus II, geometry, trigonometry, algebra I, algebra II

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