“Math isn’t for everyone. Some people just do not have the aptitude for it.”
How many times has this sentence been used around you? If you’re like me, you will have heard this enough times to have gotten a tattoo of it. Let me offer my opinion on this well-known statement:
IT IS ABSOLUTE RUBBISH!
Not everyone will become as good as Steven Hawking, of course, but far too often this sentence is used to justify years of inadequate teaching and educational neglect. A failure to teach properly is then spun as the fault of the student, and students are told that they simply do not have talent.
This is nonsense. Too many students are discouraged by the idea that it is some fault of theirs that they are not understanding the content, when it is a failure of the system itself. Education systems worldwide are based on meeting the needs of only the top students, with struggling students never receiving the help they require to advance their understanding.
Let me dispel that right now. If you are a student, YOU CAN BE A MATH WHIZZ! It requires hard work, and can take some time, but if you follow the tips I’m going to show you below, your math prowess should improve.
1. Basics, basics and BASICS
Trying to master difficult mathematical concepts without a solid foundation is like trying to build a castle on quicksand. It won’t last, and you certainly won’t be able to build it very high.
It may seem silly, but practice the most basic things all the time. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are the most important weapons in your arsenal. If you practice these, without practicing anything else, you will already be a much better math student.
If you think about it, every advanced concept is some combination of these four basic operations, so make sure you can do these things in your sleep.
2. Practice as much as possible
Math is not just about memorizing rules. Each problem requires slightly different application of these rules, so make sure you get as much practice as possible. That way, you will be much more equipped to understand exactly how to use the rules to solve the problem at hand.
Even if you struggle, start with simple problems, and do lots of them. Work your way up in terms of difficulty, but do not get discouraged if you feel you are not progressing fast enough. Each problem you look at is progress in itself, and you will see the fruits if you keep going.
3. Read solutions
After every problem you do, try to find a solution that someone else has written, and read it carefully. Whether it’s from an exercise book, a past paper, or even a problem your teacher wrote on the board, it doesn’t matter. In the case of the teacher, ask him/her to evaluate your solution, and how he/she would have done it differently.
This is not about saying your solution is inadequate. Not at all. However, learning many different ways of solving the same problem might open your eyes to a strategy you had not thought of before. It could save you time, or be useful in a problem you see in the future.
4. Stop being afraid of being wrong
This is a tough one, I know. You might be afraid that people will mock you for being wrong, but honestly, it shouldn’t matter.
I was one of the top math students in the country in high school, and I used to be wrong often. In class at school, some of the students were amazed that I was not always right. The key is to not mind being wrong. Take it as a chance to learn. I would offer up ideas on how to work with new concepts, and I wouldn’t always be right. But by learning why it was my idea wouldn’t work, I learned much more than those who sat passively and just listened. That meant that when the exam came, I knew what would and wouldn’t work, because I tested my own theories and learned from those who knew more than I did. The effect on your performance is extraordinary!
Engage with each learning opportunity. Being wrong isn’t a problem. Being afraid to be wrong, however, means you limit your own opportunity for learning.
5. Find a GOOD teacher
I’ve left this for last, but don’t misunderstand. It is incredibly important to have a good teacher.
NOTICE: I am not saying find a teacher, but find a GOOD teacher.
Good teachers encourage you, are willing to work at your level, and make efforts to understand what it is you struggle with.
I’m going to give you an example. There were two teachers who taught circle geometry in a class I attended. One of them taught the entire section in one hour, the other took 5 hours to cover half the section. Funnily enough, the one who taught it in an hour was the better teacher, in my opinion.
Let me tell you why:
- He taught at the level of the students he was working with. He already knew what foundation we had, and taught in a way that supplemented that foundation.
- He made an effort to find out whenever we got stuck on a concept, and would explain it until we were no longer confused.
- He would not go on until everyone was on the same page.
Good teachers, by facilitating your understanding, enable you to learn so much faster. Teachers who teach to get through the content, rather than to facilitate your learning, can confuse you and make it harder to learn. Find yourself a good teacher, even if you have to go searching.
I was lucky to have followed these concepts naturally. Use these 5 tips and you will be a much better math practitioner, with an improved holistic understanding of mathematics.
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Also, if you want personal assistance from me, I do individualised coaching, which means you get a 4 week programme with me to work on the specific problems that you have with mathematics. If you’re interested in fast-tracking your mathematical progress, email me to set up your free consultation!
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Good luck, and remember: YOU CAN DO IT!