Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
― Benjamin Franklin
Do you dread math? You're not alone. A dislike of math can begin as early as first grade, and stick with you for life. Disliking math is one thing, because not everyone loves everything―but if someone asked you to figure out the quantity of paint required to redo the interiors of your house, would you freeze? If you answered in the affirmative, you might have math anxiety.
Math anxiety is incredibly common at all age levels―in fact, it becomes more common as children progress through school. Many college students choose their majors based on how many math classes they would have to take.
It's sad―especially when it doesn't have to be that way. Math anxiety is totally fixable, and you can do it all on your own.
Simple Tips to Alleviate Math Anxiety
Understand the Cause of the Anxiety
Math anxiety is caused by having a negative experience associated with math at some point―for many of us, more than one. Everyone is capable of understanding math, but all it takes is a single negative association to wreck that belief. If you suffer from math anxiety, it's not because you 'just don't have that kind of brain', it's because, at some point, someone or something shattered your confidence. It actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think that you're bad at math, you will be bad at math. But the reverse is also true―if you work to restore your confidence, you'll have the ability to understand as much math as you need to.
Start With the Basics
One of the biggest issues behind math anxiety is a lack of mastery over the fundamental principles. If your anxiety-inducing event happened as a young child, it is bound to stay with you in your adult years as well. To get over it, brush up. Check out books from the library or study online. Don't necessarily take a course―the idea is to make the situation low-pressure, so you can fail without consequence. Go all the way back to the beginning―this means adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Doing exercises you know you can do without a struggle will build up your confidence, and as you progress through the levels, you'll be rebuilding the foundation that once crumbled.
Rote learning is a terrible way to learn math. Formulas fall out of your head immediately after the exam. It's very important to actually understand what the formula is doing, and why you're using that formula versus another one. Talk your way through it. Relate it to real life. Try drawing pictures or creating a game. Make up little narratives in your head. Whatever learning method speaks to you, use it. If you're stuck, visit one of the myriad math websites that come up with a quick 'math help'. Google search, and go from there.
Don't Give up So Easily
If you're taking a math class, failing does indeed have consequences, so it's important to get it right. Begin by preparing for the class in advance―the moment you register, start brushing up on the basics and whatever concepts give you trouble. If you can get the instructor's syllabus ahead of time, start looking over the material covered in class, so you don't feel blindsided when it's covered. Ask questions during class. It's not a stupid question―if you need to ask it, it's guaranteed that there are a dozen other students in class who also don't understand, but are afraid to ask. Take excellent notes and read them after class. Do all the required homework and recommended exercises at the recommended times. If you still need help, get a tutor or a study buddy from class.
The ability to excel at math is not inborn, and you absolutely can learn to feel comfortable with math through sheer hard work and determination. So, try hard, start early, and give yourself permission to fail. You are worth more than your calculus grade, but proving to yourself that you can do it is incredibly empowering.