By Germain Tanoh, PhD : Math falls at the bottom of a list of subjects that people like or in which they feel successful. It is not uncommon to hear students say that they hate math. When you experience difficulty with learning math, it can affect your self-esteem, your motivation, and achievement in life. If not addressed properly, these problems often grow and can limit your potential to achieve success.
The Challenge of Learning Math
Math is particularly challenging because it requires a level of precise, clear thinking and problem-solving activities quite different than in other disciplines. The three most common reasons students fail maths are the following:
1. Lack of learning support. In most educational institutions, it is not unusual to see 20 to 30 students in a class. This makes it difficult for the teacher to understand and meet the learning needs of each student. Learning math is different from learning other subject because math follows a sequential learning pattern. It means that the mathematical concept learned on one day is used the next day and the next day, and so forth. This is the reason it is difficult to catch up when you fall behind. Even when the student attends class regularly, it may happen that he/she lacks the prerequisite knowledge and skills needed to learn and understand a new math topic. The student may have particular learning disabilities that can slow down progress in school.
2. Math anxiety. Math anxiety is not an intellectual disability but an emotional reaction to math. A state of mind that can diminish your ability to succeed in math. A development phase of math anxiety is math avoidance. If a student is avoiding math there is a greater chance that he/she has math anxiety. This behaviour is rooted in the belief that math is innate and not learned. Negative life experiences associated with learning math may trigger math anxiety. Also, poor teaching method, social pressure and high expectation can increase math anxiety.
3. Bad math study habits. General learning study methods can help you pass most of your courses, but to be good in math, you will need to adopt a different approach and develop math study skills. All the student has to do to succeed in other courses is to read, understand, and recall the subject material. To pass math, an extra step is required: You must use the information you have learned to solve math problems accurately.
Successful Math Habits
If you are struggling with math or you are afraid you will fail math here are some tips to help you become a better math student:
• Have a positive attitude. Educators agree that success requires more than ability, competence, or hard work. You need to have a positive attitude in math. You must visualize yourself now as a successful student and be convinced that you have the ability to succeed in math. Of course a little worry about your performance is normal and can even be helpful. Resist the temptation of blaming yourself with negative words. Negative thoughts are the cause of math anxiety. The good news is that you have the power to control your thoughts. Change your negative math self-talk into positive math self-talk. Instead of “I will not pass math”, say “I am smart enough to pass math”.
• Use the resources of your school, college or university. Most of them have a tutoring lab, if your education institution doesn’t have one; consider hiring an upper level math student or a professional math tutor for individual learning support. A tutor can help guide you through the labyrinth of content in a way that facilitates learning and reduces math anxiety.
• Consider math a foreign language. Learning math is like learning a foreign language. It requires daily practice. If you do not practice a foreign language, you lose it. The same holds true for math, if you do not practice, you are likely to forget it. There are many symbols and new words to know.
• Do your homework assignments later that same day after class. After each math class, allow at least half an hour to read your class notes and then do your homework. Remember to read your notes first before doing your homework.
• Attend every class. If you ever have to miss a class, it’s imperative that you meet with your professor or teacher during office hours and make certain that you understand the material you missed. If you don’t, you may be lost or struggling for weeks or the rest of the term.
• You should avoid reading your mathematics textbooks like a novel. You should sit at a desk, with paper and pencil in hand, verifying statements that are unclear to you and inserting question marks in margins so that you will be ready to ask questions and improve your understanding of new mathematical concepts.
• Be proactive, plan ahead. Have a mind set of an over achiever and make a habit of preparing your math tests well in advance. Start your study program as early as a week before the schedule exam.
About the Author: Dr. Germain Tanoh is Director, Learning Support at Hello Math. He is an entrepreneur and educator, and holds a Ph.D. degree in Applied Mathematics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org