How to succeed in this course
For many students, this is your first college-level course in
mathematics. In high school, you may have taken calculus courses that
taught you to perform (sometimes rather involved) mechanical
procedures for computing derivatives, integrals, and the like. About
half of this course will be similar, except instead of computing
integrals, you'll learn to solve systems of linear equations of
The other half of this course, however, will likely be more
abstract in nature than anything you've seen before. You are at the
Georgia Institute of Technology, after all — this is not high
school any more. We will focus on conceptual ways of
understanding equations and their solution sets. We will ask
questions like, what is the dimension of a set of solutions? What are
all ways we can write them down? Are there any properties of
the matrices involved that we can exploit to describe the solution
sets, without actually solving the equations in the first place? What
kind of geometric questions can we associate to a system of linear
For these reasons, the methods you used to approach your previous
mathematics courses may not suffice any more. For instance:
You will probably notice that there are lots of vocabulary words in
this course, such as span, linearly
invertible, etc. You have to not only learn what
they mean, but learn to make them work for you. The
language of mathematics is very powerful, but also very precise;
having a vague idea of what a term signifies is not useful.
You may be tempted to ask, "so what's the recipe for solving this
kind of problem?" or "what kinds of problems will be on the exam?"
About half of the problems will not reduce to some kind of
mechanical procedure, so there really is no recipe. We can't tell
you that you'll only have problems of a certain form, and that
we'll just fiddle with the numbers on the exams. If Wolfram
Alpha can do the problem faster than you can, it doesn't count as
problem solving. Problem solving is the part where you figure
out what to ask Wolfram Alpha (or Mathematica, etc.) in the first
place. And this is as it should be: nobody is going to hire you to
do calculations that a computer can do better.
If you've read this far, then you may be worried that your
usual approach is useless, and
that you're in for a tough semester. Don't worry, you're smart and
hardworking. You wouldn't have been admitted if we didn't think
you'd succeed. You'll figure it out! Plus there are lots
of resources available, so you won't be on
Read on for more specific advice.
Do the homework assignments carefully
the only graded portion of the course where you have a full week to
think about your answers. The only way to truly learn to do math
is by practicing doing math — just like the only way to learn
to play tennis is by spending time on the practice court.
Keep up with the daily coursework
learn everything the night or the week before an exam is like
trying to learn to hit serves and backhands in one long day of
practice with a big match the next day.
Work with your classmates
In addition to being
a great way to get to know people, you'll find you may learn as
much from your classmates as you do from your professors. I'm of
the firm opinion that the advantage of being at a prestigious
institution such as Georgia Tech is as much the quality of your
peers as the quality of instruction.
Read the textbook before the lecture
purpose of lecture time is to fill the gaps in your understanding,
not to communicate all of the content of the course. You don't
need a Georgia Tech professor to teach you the easy stuff, so we
will concentrate on the tricky points.
Come to class and to studio, and pay attention
We prepare lectures carefully, and the online lecture notes will
not mean much to you unless you were there to hear them explained.
If you're not in class, then you won't hear us say the word "span"
four hundred times in one week, and therefore you might be
surprised to see it on the midterm. Besides, attendance is part of
Take advantage of the resources
We know that learning linear algebra can be
hard. There are lots of ways to get help. Come to office hours!
Read the textbook! Go to Math Lab! Ask questions on Piazza! We
want you to succeed, but you can lead a horse to water...
Don't look for answers on the Internet
This is not because it's considered dishonest; rather, it is hard to find
quality information on the Internet, and even harder to judge the
reliability of any information you do find.
At the very least,
only use the Internet as a last resort, after you've already been
stuck for a while.
These are set
periods of time where we sit in our office
staring at the door and hoping our students will show
up to ask questions. Seriously, your instructors chose to be
college professors in part because we honestly enjoy interacting
with students, and we derive a lot of satisfaction when they end up
learning some math. That said, do come prepared with
questions that you've already thought about a bit. Don't expect
your instructor simply to tell you how to do the problems; this is
not a good way to learn.
assistants are also knowledgeable about linear algebra, and have
scheduled time to answer your questions. Whereas you must attend
your assigned section, you are free to visit the office hours of
any of your TAs.
This is essentially a free one-on-many
tutoring service provided by the School of Mathematics, and is
staffed by graduate teaching assistants. Its hours are very
flexible. Here you will find people who are willing to spend lots
of time helping you and answering your questions.
The Center for Academic Success
has just instituted a new group tutoring program that includes math
1553. We are not yet sure if this will continue in Spring 2022.
textbook and course materials.
If you get
stuck, Go back and actually read through the textbook
carefully. We will post new material throughout the
semester on Canvas and the course calendar.
The examples in the
There are many good examples in the ILA textbook and at the end of
every section and every chapter of Lay. These are ideal for use as
This is an online space for this class
where you can post questions and help other people by answering
their questions. We will also check Piazza. regularly and respond
to questions. It can be accessed through the course site on Canvas.
See the discussion on the
Please login to it at least once, since you will not receive class
announcements posted through Piazza otherwise.
If you decide you need extra, personalized help beyond what is freely
available, you can consider hiring a tutor.