Breaking free from your mathematics problem in 2020
The world of mathematics is no longer a big part of my universe but it is for you otherwise you will not be here reading this post. You are probably trying to get past Waec, Jamb or dealing with it at the polytechnic/ university level or even at a job.
I will be upfront with you here. I am no math genius, In fact, I struggled with it right up to university. (I study Physics by the way.)
I also had issues with English too at some point you can read about it in overcome the depression of facing Waec.
So based on that I was almost not writing this post. After all, I am no expert. But this blog is a help blog created to solve your problems and last time I checked getting past mathematics is still a huge problem now as it was in my time. And I badly want to help you.
A big part of what I write here is about my mistakes and the many things I would have done differently if I had known better.
All I want is for you who is coming after me to be better than me. So learn from my mistakes or lack of wisdom at that time.
There is a saying that the wisest people are those who learn from others mistakes. So this is me basically saying that these are the things I should have done back then and you should now do so that you will get out of your current struggle with this subject.
Answering the question why am I struggling with mathematics?
The first thing you should do is to understand why you’re struggling in mathematics.
So I carried out this exercise on myself and I came up with these findings some I’m sure you can relate to since you may have them.
- My maths foundation wasn’t strong
- I never really had good maths teachers
- I was afraid of maths
- I ignored a lot of the advice I got about how to fix my maths problem
so let me quickly run through the above:
My maths foundation wasn’t strong:
I was born in another African country and the way mathematics was being thought there was completely different from the way mathematics is being taught in Nigeria so when I moved back home into it the Nigerian system I was affected by the change. The maths here was at a much higher level and it wasn’t easy to adjust.
I was afraid of maths:
The knowledge of mathematics is usually instilled in you with words of fear and cane in Nigeria. I was never flogged for not knowing mathematics but watching others face that fate it did not help at all. I am sure you will agree that it is difficult to learn anything when you are afraid. The video below is quite typical of many homes here.
I will quickly add here that our parents meant well. So don’t stay angry at them.
I never really had good maths teachers
My secondary school at that time struggled with getting us, math teachers.
And those that they got were not very good teachers(they knew the subject but just couldn’t teach in a way that most of would understand.
And the teachers kept changing too which of course was a huge problem (different teachers implied different teaching techniques and this meant more confusion for a subject that is easy to master.
And to illustrate further the importance of stability I had just one Agricultural science teacher in my senior secondary school(a good one) and most of us ended up getting an A in Agric in Waec.
I ignored all the advice I was ever given about studying mathematics
This I believe is actually what caused me to struggle consistently in mathematics. This was the one thing I had under my control but failed woefully to do. I was getting good advice but I was not paying attention to them.
Ask me why and frankly I don’t really have an answer. it could be because at that point in time that my confidence in overcoming the subject had gotten so low to the point that I didn’t take anything that I was told seriously.
Whatever the reason now that I’m looking back and answering the question why I always struggle with mathematics I realise that I never took any of the advice I was ever given about how to do well in the subject seriously.
It’s your turn to sit down and get a sheet of paper and write down all the reasons why you think you’re struggling with mathematics as a subject. This awareness is the very first step that will help you to stop feeling afraid and finally begin to take control and master it.
Now let’s tackle all the things you can do or should do to become good at mathematics.
Understand that Mathematics takes a lot of effort
Mathematics requires that you stay longer with it than with most subjects. What I mean is if it takes you one hour to understand a particular subject, mathematics may require five hours or even ten. Just understand that you will need to put in more effort.
And life is like that really there are certain things you may find easy and others harder.
Practice, practice, practice
I’m sure you were expecting this. This is the number one advice I always got when it comes to dealing with mathematics. And I never took it seriously not for one day.
I’m willing to bet that you to have gotten this advice in one form or the other from different people. When you do something repeatedly and consistently there will be an outcome.
For example, if you allow water to drip into a bucket over a period of time. The bucket will get full. Sure it may take a few hours or days or even years but so long as the water keeps dripping into the bucket it will eventually get full.
All the research I did on this topic about how to be good in mathematics always had this at either number one or number two.
You need to practice maths a lot and repeatedly to become very good at it. And you need to practice even more if you don’t understand it as easily as others.
Foundational mathematics is key:
Mathematics is a cumulative subject what this actually means is you build on past knowledge. So if you don’t understand the basics you will continue to struggle as you learn new topics.
Basics can be the simple things like learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide properly.
So if you currently struggling with mathematics and you know deep within you that you don’t have the basics down you need to create time and go back and start from there. Yes going back is extra work but it is going to make sure you stop struggling it so is worth it.
Understand concepts, principles and formulas
During my time I scraped through mathematics by memorising how a particular problem is solved but not quite understanding why. That unfortunately only works for the easy questions. So what will happen is I will be able to do question one to five and the remaining fifteen will be a nightmare.
So before putting pen to paper to attempt solving the first thing that needs to be done is to understand the concept.
This will eventually make it easier for you to tackle the harder/ trick questions. Understanding the concept ensures that no matter how the questions are twisted you’ll be in a position to tackle them.
Develop a system to memorize all the things you need to memorize
Maths is loaded with a lot of formulas and principles etc Develop a system to commit them to memory for example some people use flashcards others have a notebook where they write down formulas. In one article I read a mathematician said his collection of maths formulas are three-note thicks and he’s had them for years.
Tackle maths in a distraction-free environment
Give mathematics your undivided attention when you want to study it. This maybe during class or when you are studying on your own.
One of the articles I read on the subject of how to study mathematics the writer laid emphasis on focus. He said he always used to ace his maths because he was always more focused than most people.
He illustrated how many people around him will be on Instagram and Whatsapp or other social media platform and claim to be solving mathematics.
So basically mathematics is like a jealous boyfriend or girlfriend it does not share with anything or anyone. So please study maths in a distraction-free setting always and think of nothing else but of it when you want to tackle it. If for example, you know your phone is going to distract you turn off. Same with visits from friends tell them you are not available or study when you sure no one will disturb you.
Apply mathematics to real-world scenarios
This I know for a fact does work. Because being a physics graduate I learnt early how to look at my environment to make sense of what I was studying. Nothing makes things stick faster than seeing them in real life.
After going through a topic see if you can duplicate what you have studied into a real-life scenario. This will help improve your understanding and also help you to remember.
Do homework and practice exercises the same day
If you’ve just been taught a new topic the best time to ensure that what you have been taught sticks and that you don’t forget it is to do the homework and the practice assignments as soon as possible preferably same day.
At that point in time, all that you’ve been taught in class is still very fresh. So if you have an assignment get it done same day don’t leave it till next week Monday when you were told to submit it chances are you would have forgotten a lot of what you were taught and you will struggle. Also, try to do your revision the same day as well.
Go through as many different materials and learning methods as necessary to understand a topic:
If you are not understanding a topic look for other places where the topic has been taught
Now, this could be different textbooks or now in the digital age going online.
So basically what you are going to do is to look for different ways the topic is being explained from different places.
One of my siblings shared this tip with me: while he was in secondary school he had a further mathematics teacher who advised them to get as many further mathematics textbooks and solve all the different exercises in the textbook. Underline all the exercises not just number one to four which are usually the easy ones. He said those of them that eventually went on to write further mathematics in WAEC did very well because of this.
so if a topic, in a particular textbook just isn’t making sense look for another textbook or material that covers it and study it there and you keep going that way until you achieve understanding. And to ensure full understanding solve all the problems presented in the material.
This is a tip I got from my own husband who is quite good at maths. He said he always read ahead before the teacher came to class. This he said is something he applied to all subjects. And it is something you should consider trying. Get the syllabus and read ahead of a class and see if it makes a big difference in your understanding the topic.
In fact, that was how I had survived mathematics most times. I had very good friends I could turn to who where willing to teach me and yes I ended up marrying one of them. Thanks to my husband I made most of my maths subjects at the university. (I had to retake one) So please get the help you need.
It could be a classmate or your teacher or you can even form a study group I did that as well not only for mathematics but for other subjects.
Start believing today that you can do well in mathematics
This quote from Henry Ford hold true: whether you think you can or you can’t you are right. Believe in yourself is what will get you all the things you want out of life.
I will also like to add here that there is this other believe that in order to do well in something you have to like it. But that’s not true. If you take a look at life, for example, something like washing plates.
Now, you may dislike washing plates with a passion. But I believe even you can wash a plate and it will be clean. And you can become good at it if you’re forced to do it often enough. But that those not mean you will ever like doing it.
So if mathematics is not your passion and that is the case with many people you can still do what it takes and get a good grade in it.
Set a grade target for yourself
Target like “please God let me at least get a pass.” Usually end up with you getting an F. In fact, set an audacious target like an A this will automatically spur you into action. Because psychological in your mind knows that in order to get an A you have to give it all you got and putting the extra effort.
And that’s it.
Overcome your mathematics problem by:
Understand and accept that mathematics takes a lot of effort
Practice practice practice
Work on your foundation
Go through as many different materials as necessary until you understand the topic
Try studying ahead
Believe in yourself
Set a grade target
Now all I have said here will only work if you take action. Thankfully I believe I stated it clearly that my struggles at the end of the day had a lot to do with inaction. So commit today to take action and come back and report great things in the comment section.
What do you think of this article and what steps are you planning to take to improve on your mathematics?