Sunday, May 10, 2009

Studying for the last CSET Exam

I'm taking the final California Single Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) - Math III (Trigonometry, Derivative and Integral Calculus, Infinite Series - and the History of Mathematics!) next Saturday. I have been studying for it for about 2 months - since I took the first 2 exams. My last official class in math was in 1963, so there is a lot of knowledge being pulled out of dusty corners of my brain. Because the interesting thing is that I recall most of what I am reviewing. That doesn't mean it's active knowledge, but I at least recognize the concepts.

I love solving Sudoku puzzles, and I play 3 different solitaires at night to relax my brain before sleeping, so I enjoy the puzzle of solving Trig identities and figuring out Integrals, both of which require puzzle solving skills.

What I don't enjoy is formulas. I'd much prefer to be able to figure out the formula myself than memorize it. My physics professor at college showed us how to set up problems using the different units (like gravity is acceleration, measured in feet (or meters) per second per second,) so you know how the problem should be set up from the units. Or if you know the trig function definitions, you don't have to memorize their values. However in a test situation you can't spend all your time deriving things. I am sure that is why I used every minute of the allotted time for the first 2 exams (taken in one sitting.)

I've been using a variety of sources to review the math, since I really do have to learn it from scratch. These have included college math and physics books, nearly the entire series of math for Dummies books, some Cliff's Notes books, a Calculus book for Economics students (which left out the trig functions, but was an excellent start,) some dedicated CSET review books - and a program I found online Ace the CSET, which is not really all you need to "Ace the CSET" - which is only pass or fail anyway, but a good help. Everything has practice exercises and practice tests, usually with great explanations about how to solve them.

However almost all of them have very vital typos. Some times it's a forgotten negative, which sent me to my calculator yesterday to find out that I was right, or another has been typed up from a hand-written script by a person who didn't have a clue what the material was about. This produces such interesting things as "l n(2x) - i.e. one n times 2 x" instead of "ln(2x) - natural log of 2x." At any rate, you can't trust everything you read, and it keeps me on my feet. It is comforting to know that even text-book writers make the same kinds of errors I make, but that doesn't help on a multiple choice test!

Test-taking and teaching

So will my current intense study of math help me as a teacher (besides knowing the materials, of course?) Will I be able to see the pitfalls more easily, or point out good study habits. Of course, my students will not be dedicating 2 months intensively to one subject! But at least I will understand the pressures of taking multiple choice tests!

I have kept my delight in math throughout (which my husband would not entirely agree with, as I've gotten grumpy here toward the end, and when I've hit something that involves what to me seems very tangle logic to understand.) Originally I figured I'd be teaching English to foreign students, which I also did in Denmark, but I wasn't feeling terribly inspired. When I started studying for the CBEST (Basic Educational Skills Test) my mind woke up reviewing for the math section, and I knew that it was math I was intended to teach!


  1. Great blog. I am also starting to study for the math CSET. Which study materials did you find most helpful. Are you looking to sell any of the study materials?


  2. Hi Andy,
    If you look at the picture on this post Studying Math, you can see all of the books I used for the CSETs. (Click the picture to view it full size in Flickr - select "All Sizes" over the picture.)

    I'm keeping them, because I figure they'll be helpful later on when I'm teaching.
    There are some rather expensive books from the Orange County School District which are helpful in some ways (the one for II is least useful) and many teachers' colleges, like CGU offer courses as well.
    Good luck!

  3. I also bought the study books from the Orange County School District and the pictures are too dark to read. The sub test 2 was not even close to what was on the test. buying them was a big waste of money!