Algebra Review ›› manual

User's Manual



How to use this site

When you first enter the Algebra Review site (http://msenux2.redwoods.edu/mathjam/) you must choose one of two possible paths you can follow to complete an algebra review by clicking the appropriate button.

  • [Course] If you are enrolled in a College of the Redwoods (CR) review course, make the selection titled “I am enrolled in a CR math review course (Math 301, 302, 303).” This site will have a GREEN background/color scheme.
  • [Public] If you are NOT enrolled in a CR review course, make the selection titled “I am doing an independent math review.” This site will have a BLUE background/color scheme.

Once you have selected the appropriate path, you must choose your desired level of review.

  • [Math 301] Prealgebra Review: A review of the concepts in Prealgebra as preparation to enter Elementary Algebra (Math 380).
  • [Math 302] Elementary Algebra Review: A review of the concepts in Elementary Algebra as preparation to enter Intermediate Algebra (Math 120).
  • [Math 303] Intermediate Algebra Review: A review of the concepts in Intermediate Algebra as preparation to enter a Transfer Level math class (Math 5, 15, 25, or 30).

As shown in the following flow chart:

Each review is then broken into six modules with two or three focused skills. Each module has an accompanied text for you to read containing examples and a short narrative to review the topic of focus.

Be sure your system is set up properly to run the OPTIMATH system in order to complete the practice assignments and quizzes. Please see the section on System Requirements.

Course

Open a second window or tab in your browser (see Tabbed Browsing), connect to the OPTIMATH system, and log into your review course.

After reading through the provided examples and narrative click on the appropriate practice assignment in the OPTIMATH window or tab and complete each of the exercises.

Public

After reading through the provided examples and narrative click on the appropriate practice assignment. A separate window will open and the assignment will be prepared. Click on the "Click here to load your practice exercises" link and complete each of the exercises.


Suggested timeline

When these review packages are taught as a course on campus, they are each designed to be completed over the course of two weeks: four days each week, 2 hours per day. This includes a brief lecture on all six modules, including examples, with plenty of time for the online practice assignments and completion quizes.

As open-access materials, of course, you can go at your own pace, taking as long to get through the material as you would like. For greatest retention of the material, it is suggested that you try to get through all of the material in as short of a timeframe as possible. Our recommendation is to complete a review course in one month or less, studying material in 1-2 hour blocks of time.


Tabbed Browsing

If you are enrolled in a course, it is recommended that you have one browser Tab/Window open to the review page and a separate Tab/Window open to OPTIMATH. Use the OPTIMATH Tab/Window to complete the excercise sets and the completion quizzes and the other Tab/Window to read the text and track your progress.

  • After selecting your review course, click the OPTIMATH link just above the first module to open OPTIMATH in a new Tab/Window.
  • Watch a video on Tabbed Browsing.
  • Note that each text link will open the text in a new Tab/Window.

If you are doing an independent review, all of the links will open their respective targets in a new window or tab. When you are finished with each you may choose to close them without losing the other windows/tabs.


Basic procedures -- Independent Review

You will need to use a supported web browser with Adobe Reader software, configured correctly. See the system requirements.

When you click on a link for practice exercises, a new tab or window to the OPTIMATH testing system will open. Follow the on-screen instructions. You will then see a link to load your practice assignment into Adobe Reader within the browser window.

Follow the instructions given in the assignment.

  • You must click on the Begin Assignment button to start.
  • Then proceed through the assignment, using either the Back and Next buttons at the top of each page, or the arrow buttons in Adobe Reader.
    • Important: Do not use the "Back" and "Forward" buttons on your browser when you are completing your assignment. If you do, you will need to reload your assignment and start over. Instead, use the links on each page to move around.
  • Answer fill-in questions using the same syntax that you would use on your calculator. If you're not sure of the syntax to use, click on the Help with Math Syntax link located under the answer box (or click here to see the same help information).
  • If you wish, you may view the answers and solutions to each individual question as you go through the assignment, using the "View Solution" link at the top of each page.
  • You must click on the End Assignment button when you are done. This will grade your assignment immediately and show your score. You can then click the Correct button to see precisely which answers are correct.

Basic procedures -- Enrolled in Math 301, 302, 303

The testing system is located at http://msenux2.redwoods.edu/optimath.

The first page of the testing site is the Optimath "portal", from which you can go to the current semester site, as well as to documentation, practice exercises, and other related links.

Click on the LOGIN link for the current semester to see a list of course sections. Then click on the link for your section (corresponding to your course and instructor) to take you to your section login page. You may want to bookmark this page on your browser.

Login page: Your login name is just like the one that you use for WebAdvisor and Blackboard: first initial + last name + last three digits of your student ID#. For example, if your name is John Doe and your student ID# is 1234567, then your login name is jdoe567. Your initial password is your full 7-digit student ID#, but you can (and should) change it once you log in.

For further assistance for Logging In please watch these videos: (You may need to deactivate your browser's popup blocker to view the videos.)

After you log in, you have just five options (each of these options is explained in more detail below):

  • Choose Assignment to take online.
  • View Assignment Results (includes your answers, the correct answers, and solutions).
  • Change password
  • Email your instructor
  • Log out

Important: Do not use the "Back" and "Forward" buttons on your browser when you are using the testing system. If you do, you will be immediately logged out of the system. Instead, use the links on each page to move around. There are really only five places to go, namely the options listed above ( Choose Assignment, View Assignment Results, etc.).

Choose Assignment:

  • Click on the link for the assignment that you want to take. A new assignment will be prepared for you (it might take a few seconds), and then you will be presented with a second link for your particular version of that assignment in pdf (Acrobat) form.
  • Click on this second link to download the assignment to your computer. If you have a dialup connection, it might take about 30 seconds or so to download this pdf document. Assuming that your Adobe Reader software is correctly configured, the assignment should open up inside your browser. If the document does not open up in your browser, see the System Requirements section below.
  • Follow the instructions given in the assignment.
    • You must click on the Begin Assignment button to start.
    • Then proceed through the assignment, using either the Back and Next buttons at the top of each page, or the arrow buttons in Adobe Reader.
    • Answer fill-in questions using the same syntax that you would use on your calculator. If you're not sure of the syntax to use, click on the Help with Math Syntax link located under the answer box (or click here to see the same help information).
    • You must click on the End Assignment button when you are done. This will grade your assignment immediately, record your score, and return you to the the View Assignment Results screen on the Optimath web site.
      • Note to dialup users: Make sure that you are connected to the internet before you press the End Assignment button! You can check your connection by opening up second window or tab in your browser and then refreshing your home page.
    • You will now be at the View Assignment Results screen, where you can see your answers and the correct answers, along with detailed solutions.

View Assignment Results:

  • Click on the link corresponding to the previous assignment that you want to view. You will again receive a pdf document that should open up within your browser. You will see your answers, the correct answers, and solutions to each problem. This is also a page length document that you can print if you wish.

Change password:

  • Click on this link to change your password to something that will be easy to remember. If you ever forget your password, you will need to contact your instructor.

Email your instructor:

  • This is a convenience link if you want to email your instructor. For example, you might want to ask about a particular question from one of the assignments. The link will open up your default email program.

Log out:

  • Please remember to log out from the system when you are done.

OPTIMATH Question Types and Syntax

OPTIMATH has a number of different question types. While some questions are multiple choice, most of them are "free response" with an answer box for you to type in your answer. For the most part, you can enter your answer in "calculator syntax", pretty much as you would on a graphing calculator. For more details, you should read the Math Syntax page. This page is also accessible to you during the tests (look for the link underneath each answer box). Most of what you need to know is mentioned on that page.

There are a few additional items that should be emphasized:

  • Remember to look under the answer box for the description of the expected format of the answer. If you are not sure of the correct syntax, click on the math syntax link which is also located under the answer box.

  • Unless explicitly specified otherwise, all questions take exact answers. If the answer is sqrt(2), then 1.41421 is not a correct answer, even if you type in 10 decimals.

  • Be sure to include enough parentheses, and put them in the correct places. OPTIMATH evaluates your answer according to the usual rules of precedence in mathematics; operators of equal precedence get evaluated left to right. The order of precedence is (from highest to lowest):
    • parentheses
    • functions (like sin or sqrt)
    • powers (^)
    • multiplication and division
    • addition and subtraction

    • For example:
      • sqrt(2)*x: The sqrt function has a higher precedence than multiplication; OPTIMATH sees this as (sqrt(2))*x, not as sqrt(2*x).
      • 4*2^3: the power has a higher precedence than multiplication; OPTIMATH sees this as 4*(2^3) or 32, not as 8^3.
      • 1/2/3/4: the divisions have equal precedence, so they get evaluated left to right: 1 divided by 2, then divided by 3, then divided by 4, or 1/24. If you want (1/2) divided by (3/4), put in parentheses, as (1/2)/(3/4)

  • Spaces in your answer are ignored. Thus, the answers 5*x+2, 5x+2, and 5 x+ 2 would all be graded in the same way.

  • Equivalent expressions are graded the same, in general. For example:
    • 6/4 and 3/2
    • 1/sqrt(2) and sqrt(2)/2
    • 3(x+4) and 3x+12
    However, there are some exceptions. If the question expressly indicates that your answer must be simplified, then you must enter the answer in a simplified form. A typical example would be a factoring problem, such as factoring the expression x2-4. In this case, you would have to enter either (x+2)(x-2) or (x-2)(x+2).

    When you view your corrected assignment, remember that the listed correct answer is usually just one possible correct form of the answer. In most cases, there are various forms of the answer that will be graded as correct.

  • Exact answers vs. approximations: All answers must be exact, unless you are specifically requested to give an approximation. If you are asked to give an approximation, then your answer must be accurate to at least the requested number of decimal places after the decimal point. For example, you might be asked to provide an answer that is "accurate to at least three decimal places after the decimal point". In this case, any answer within 0.001 of the listed correct answer counts as correct. Thus, if the listed correct answer is 1.41421356237, then responses such as 1.414 or 1.4142 or 1.415 would all be graded as correct.

  • While we are on the subject of approximate numerical answers: some word problems require you to find some intermediate results first. Make sure you use enough decimals of accuracy for those. If you round some intermediate value to two decimals, your final answer will not be correct to three decimals. You should use at least four or five decimals for the intermediate calculations, to be on the safe side.

  • When it comes to typing in equations of curves, the basic rule is: your answer must be a single equation which has the same graph as the given correct answer. So, if the given answer is y=x+2, and you type in y-x=2, that is correct. However, if the answer is x=y^2, and you type in y=sqrt(x), that is wrong. The reason is that the graph of x=y^2 is a parabola, but the graph of y=sqrt(x) is the upper half of a parabola. You also cannot combine equations (for example, an answer such as y=sqrt(x),y=-sqrt(x) would be incorrect).

  • Answers with units: You are probably used to adding units (such as "meters" or "seconds") to the answers of application problems. However, grading algorithms in OPTIMATH are not designed to accept answers with units. Therefore, do not add units to any of your answers.

  • Unless explicitly specified otherwise, do not use mixed numbers - they will be graded as incorrect. Use fractions instead.

  • When you view your corrected assignment, remember that the the listed correct answer is usually just one possible correct form of the answer. In most cases, there are various forms of the answer that will be graded as correct. If you are ever unsure why OPTIMATH graded your answer as incorrect, be sure to contact your instructor in person or by email. Your instructor can look at your answer and the listed correct answer, and then provide you with an explanation.

Other hints and information

  • Which browser? You will need access to a computer with an internet connection and one of the supported operating system / web browser / Adobe Reader combinations. Alternatively, you can of course use computers at CR if you don't have your own computer and you come to CR frequently.

  • Grading: Be sure to always grade your assignments. Your online assignment is not complete until you have finished the grading process. If you leave an assignment ungraded, then a score of 0 is recorded. In particular, if you are taking a proctored assignment, then you must follow the onscreen instructions carefully when you finish the assignment.

  • Security: Be sure to log out of OPTIMATH or quit your browser when you are done working within the testing system. Otherwise, you will remain "logged in" to the testing system, and the next person to use the computer can assume your identity.

  • Protecting your answers from system errors: As with all computer applications, occasionally problems may occur. For example, your computer or browser may freeze up and you may be forced to restart your system. In that case, you will need to start the assignment over. It's important to realize that while you are working on an OPTIMATH assignment, the assignment is actually located on your computer - your results are not saved until you finish the assignment. Thus, you should take precautions to preserve your answers, as follows:
    • To guard against losing answers in event of a system problem, be sure to carefully write down your answers on your scratch paper. When you go back into OPTIMATH, you will see a message stating that you have an "active" assignment that you may restart. In this case, OPTIMATH will retrieve the exact same version of the assignment that you were working on, but all of the answers will be blank. You can then retype your answers into the assignment.
    • Remember to stay within the assignment window while working on the assignment. Don't use the Back or Forward buttons on your browser. Also, only use single-clicks with the mouse on buttons and links, not double-clicks.
    • If a computer malfunction ultimately causes you to miss a problem, please contact your instructor right away. You may just have to take the assignment again, but at least your instructor can give you a deadline extension in this case.

  • Technical problems: If the testing system doesn't seem to work correctly for you, be sure to consult your instructor.

System requirements

If you are using OPTIMATH on a library computer at College of the Redwoods, then you must use either Firefox or Internet Explorer. OPTIMATH should work correctly on the library computers with either of these two browsers.

On the other hand, if you want to use OPTIMATH on another computer, such as a home computer, then you must configure that computer to work correctly with the OPTIMATH system. OPTIMATH requires the installation of the Adobe Reader internet plugin so that your browser will open pdf files within the browser window. For detailed instructions, see the OPTIMATH System Requirements page.

This site created and maintained by the Department of Mathematics at College of the Redwoods