One of the main reasons why math can be difficult for some students is math anxiety. Students with math anxiety develop a fear of failure and oftentimes settle for low academic achievement. They truly believe that they cannot manipulate numbers and solve math problems. Even if they study and learn how to solve math problems, the moment anxiety creeps in, they freeze and momentarily forget everything they learned.
So, what exactly is math anxiety? According to Tobias and Weissbrod, math anxiety is the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganization that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem. Math anxiety goes beyond nervousness and it has symptoms that can be debilitating in academic settings. Students may become apprehensive and experience mental blocks that keep them from achieving good academic results.
What’s more, math anxiety can directly affect students well into adulthood, impacting their daily lives and making something as trivial as calculating the budget for grocery shopping feel like a burden. As such, it’s important to address math anxiety early on by recognizing the symptoms, identifying the causes, and devising a solution.
What are the causes and symptoms of math anxiety?
Math anxiety can be caused by a number of factors. Students who have been reprimanded or constantly criticized for not getting the answer right in early childhood may develop math anxiety over time. Likewise, some students can be influenced by negative or distorted perceptions that make them believe they don’t have the necessary abilities to achieve better academic results.
Students can also feel this way in the absence of an adequate learning plan. Everyone learns in different ways, and without appropriate learning solutions, many students end up doubting their abilities and developing math anxiety. Additionally, the pressure of timed tests only worsens the anxiety and many students give up on completing their assignments. But many students with math anxiety actually have what it takes to complete their assignments.
Oftentimes, math anxiety is rooted in a bad experience or series of experiences with math that can be associated with harsh criticism, embarrassment, or fear. And as the anxiety evolves, the symptoms can get worse, preventing students from realizing their potential and achieving higher academic results. The following symptoms are the most common and ideally, teachers, parents, and tutors should recognize and address them accordingly:
- Physiological symptoms: increased agitation, nausea, shortness-of-breath, increased heart rate or blood pressure, stomach aches, headaches, sweating, and lightheadedness;
- Psychological symptoms: memory loss, brain fog, lack of self-confidence, negative self-talk, apprehension, isolation, loss of interest, disdain for math, intense emotional reactions, low achievement, and lack of response.
These symptoms can severely impact a student’s academic growth. The constant negative self-talk, low achievement, and lack of self-confidence can follow students into their careers, getting in the way of their success.
How to overcome math anxiety
Fortunately, math anxiety is not untreatable. It’s important to acknowledge it so that teachers, parents, and tutors can provide the necessary support and assistance. Additionally, if you are a student struggling with math anxiety, the following practices can help you overcome it and improve your academic results.
- Talk about math
Feel free to ask questions and communicate what bothers you in an equation or math problem. Just like you, many of your peers are afraid to speak up because they are afraid they might embarrass themselves or open themselves to harsh criticism. But by asking questions, you can address the obstacles in the problem-solving process and encourage your colleagues to follow suit.
- Explore different solutions
A lot of the anxiety students experience may come from the misguided assumptions that there’s only one way to solve a math problem and that they don’t have the capabilities required to solve it. So, it’s important to understand that there are more ways than one to solve a math problem and identify which one works for you best.
- Have a positive attitude
To eliminate negative self-talk, which stands in the way of personal progress, it’s important to set high expectations and invest sustained effort into meeting those expectations. And the key throughout this process is to have a positive attitude with motivating affirmations for a boost of self-confidence.
- Practice and persevere
Math is a cumulative subject, it builds on itself. So, with each lesson, it’s important to consolidate that knowledge through practice. Without a solid understanding, it’s difficult to move on to the next lesson and make sense of it. As such, sustained effort is required to keep up. Set aside half an hour a day to focus only on your math work and you’ll start seeing improvements.
- Be organized
Disorganization can be distracting and very confusing, which only worsens math anxiety. Being organized and taking notes is the key to consolidating your knowledge of math. An organized notebook is a valuable resource that you can always refer back to. You will feel more confident knowing that you can always pick up your notebook and clarify any concerns.
- Try understanding, not memorizing
It’s more important to understand how math works than to memorize a specific formula. Especially because once you understand how math works, that formula will make sense and become easier to remember. Ask your teacher or tutor to explain how the math behind a problem works and then try to explain it yourself. This will also help you develop your mathematical thinking and boost your self-confidence.
- Work with an individual tutor
If your math anxiety is caused by an inadequate learning program or fear of failure and embarrassment, then you need one-on-one support from a math expert who can teach you math in ways that are relevant to you. And that’s exactly what individual tutoring programs offer—one-on-one personalized support. Individual tutors can also make math fun, using interactive exercises and engaging games to help you better understand how the mechanisms of problem-solving work.
Albert Einstein once said: Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater. Even one of the most notable scientists in history had challenges in math, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t understand everything from the get-go.
Plus, with the help of a tutor, you will overcome any difficulty. And you can be open and honest with them about your feelings toward math so that they can create a solution just for you. If you want to start working with a math tutor, check out our online tutoring programs, or feel free to contact us for more information.