Online Math Center

Why is math “so hard” for some students?

Some students are naturally talented at math. They are fascinated by it, they are quick to solve equations, and some even embrace hard math challenges that make them excel. But some students struggle with math, they have a more difficult time understanding this subject and can’t make any sense of it. People may say that’s nonsense—how can anyone not make sense of the most logical and rational subject there is? Well, there are a few reasons why some students may have a harder time with math and some of them might even surprise you. Let’s tackle them below.

Why is math hard?

Math, in and of itself, is not as hard as it is made out to be, but it is an abstract subject and it may seem difficult to comprehend to those who have:
  1. A fundamental deficit in the representation of numerosity or dyscalculia, which is a common brain-based learning disability that prevents individuals from understanding number-related concepts or performing accurate calculations. However, there are different strategies that can help children or adults with dyscalculia improve their math skills.
  2. A shaky foundation, due to lack of mastery over basic math skills. If a student missed out on fundamental math classes or has fallen behind, it may be harder for them to grasp more complex concepts. Math is cumulative—fundamental, basic skills must be mastered before moving on to more advanced concepts. Thus, cumulative practice is the key to training a student who does well in math.
  3. A different way of processing information. Based on the multiple intelligences theory, we can safely assume that not everyone has logical-mathematical intelligence as their dominant capability. There are eight types of intelligence total, so mathematically speaking, some people will have different dominant intelligence. Students with dominant logical-mathematical intelligence have a natural predisposition toward understanding abstract problems and solving equations. For them, math is a clear subject. For other students who may have a dominant verbal-linguistic or interpersonal intelligence, for example, it’s easier to understand maths if it’s presented to them as a language or mode of communication by replacing abstract concepts with experiential objects or illustrations.
  4. A lack of adequate support and tutoring. Nothing, especially maths, is easy to learn at a first glance. Although there are exceptions, learning anything generally takes time and effort. And so is the case with math. For students with dyscalculia or a different type of dominant intelligence, there are learning styles that can be implemented to facilitate a solid understanding of at least basic math levels. For students who didn’t have the chance to consolidate the basics, individual tutoring can help establish the foundation and fill in the gaps for more advanced work. And for those who already have a solid foundation, advanced, hard math is still hard. With the right tutoring program, they can progress quicker and excel at solving quite complex problems.
  5. Mathematical anxiety or math phobia, which may be influenced by culture, among other factors. Children who have been raised in an environment that fosters fear and anxiety will have a hard time with math problems and experience increased tension when solving equations. If children are taught that they always have to deliver the right answer through the right way of solving an equation, they will fear failure, settle for low achievement, become apprehensive, and sometimes even physically unable to process the problem because their brain’s working memory will be blocked. It’s important for tutors and parents to recognize signs of math anxiety and address them accordingly.

Key considerations

Many students can find math difficult to relate to because it’s an abstract subject. In childhood, students start learning about the world around them by exploring and experimenting, they learn by directly relating things to real life. It’s important to introduce basic concepts of mathematics as early as possible in a way that applies to real life. Otherwise, it becomes harder and harder to introduce it later as an abstract subject. Once the basic foundation is built upon relatability, more advanced exercises can be introduced, making it easier for students to process and solve them. Naturally, math becomes more complex with each exercise, so it’s vital for the child to consolidate the basics. This requires support from both parents and afterschool tutors.  It’s also important to remember that there are different ways to approach algebra and geometry problems. A tutor can help determine the appropriate learning style for a student so that math problems can become easier to understand and solve. A one-size-fits-all approach will not be productive and it can transform learning math into a stressful and frustrating experience, ultimately cultivating even more math anxiety. As long as a student is taught an appropriate learning style and receives tutoring support to consolidate the basics, they will evolve their understanding of math and even excel at it. All it takes is time, patience, and understanding.

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