Students typically take a pre-algebra class in middle school or junior high school. Some adult learners take pre-algebra classes to prepare for a college-entry algebra course. Pre-algebra lays the foundation for algebra and beyond. Since elementary mathematics is generally concrete, pre-algebra is often a student’s first encounter with abstract concepts. Don’t let the course overwhelm you. Take steps to address problems before they escalate, and you might even enjoy pre-algebra class.

**Start with a Solid Background**

Pre-algebra success depends in part on a firm understanding of concepts, such as fractions and decimals, that are taught in elementary school. You’ll be expected to solve lots of equations in pre-algebra that will contain fractions and decimals. If x = 2.25, you’ll have trouble solving x2 if you don’t know how to multiply decimal numbers. Brush up on basic skills during the summer, and you will enter pre-algebra class feeling less anxious and more confident in your ability to pass the course.

**Play an Active Role**

The only person who can ensure your grasp of pre-algebra material is you. Strive to attend all classes. If you’re absent, quickly find out what you missed. Ask the teacher questions until you understand. Make sure you comprehend the addition and subtraction of integers, so you can successfully solve an equation such as 3x – 4 = -10. Competency in calculating signed numbers is vital for future algebra classes. You’ll learn vocabulary terms that are new to you, such as expressions, integers, variables and absolute value. Take notes in class and review them often to keep the terms in memory.

**Use Your Math Book**

You thought it looked easy when the teacher demonstrated in class how to simplify factorial 5! — 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 — so you didn’t take notes. However, when it comes time for homework, you scratch your head, trying to remember exactly what she did. Refer to your math textbook. Read explanations and study sample problems. Additionally, in the back of a pre-algebra text, you’ll generally find answers to odd-numbered problems. Teachers typically assign even numbers for homework. Before attempting the homework, try to solve a few odd numbers to make sure you’re on the right track.

**Do the Homework**

The purpose of homework is to practice a skill learned in class. If you complete a worksheet on one-step equations, and you miss several problems, you clearly didn’t grasp the concept. When the teacher advances to two-step equations, you’ll fall behind. Redo each problem that you missed on homework. Teachers sometimes offer compensation when a student shows he’s redone problems missed on homework. Try explaining difficult concepts to a parent or a friend to cement your understanding. Draw a number line and demonstrate how to find absolute value or tell them what the difference is between the commutative and associative properties.

**Show All Steps Neatly**

Many problems in pre-algebra involve listing the steps you must take to find the solution. For example, if you solve the equation 2x + 4 = 10, you first subtract 4 from both sides of the equation: 2x + 4 (-4) = 10 – 4 results in 2x = 6. The next step is to divide both sides by 2. Even if a problem seems simple, get in the habit of listing all the steps. This ensures you won’t make a careless mistake or leave out a step. Write numbers carefully and legibly. Plus and minus signs mean a great deal in pre-algebra and recording an inaccurate sign means you’ll end up with an incorrect solution.

image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Quinchoa

Click here to read more education articles by this author.