Why Is Math So Hard for Some?


Math anxiety is incredibly common today, even with advanced education techniques and well-established institutions. Around half of all people in the United States struggle with math, and many people even have a fear of the subject.

But why is math so hard for many and what can we do to fix it? In this article, we’re going to dive into what leads to difficulties in learning math and provide suggestions for each root problem. Read on to learn more about why people struggle with math and how you can fix it.

Different Styles of Thinking

We’ve all heard for decades about how there are “left-brained” and “right-brained” people. The former are stereotypically better at analytical and sequential tasks, while the latter are supposed to be holistic and creative thinkers. While the theory itself is not correct, one key stereotype that is held true is that people who think holistically and creatively tend to struggle more with math.

Writing a song or drawing a picture is never done start to finish in perfect steps. Creative types make a whole, rough piece and then double back to tweak and perfect most of the piece’s elements. Logic and math punish this approach because most mathematical methods require a sequence of correct (perfect) steps for the answer to be correct.

How “Right-Brained” People Learn Math

Creative thinkers can get around this problem in several different ways. The easiest fix is to realize that math is a lot more like a detective finding the right answer rather than a student trying to produce the right answer.

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A good detective takes months or even years of training and practice to learn to use and master the tools needed to solve the problem. This is also why it’s important to know that the vast majority of people on this planet cannot do this alone. Virtually everyone needs a teacher to show them how the “tools” of multiplication, variables, statistical tables, functions, and so on work.

Why Is Math So Hard in High School and Beyond

Another reason why math is hard for people further in their lives is that there was a problem with the foundation. Your parents are fully in charge of getting you to study and do your homework when your schooling career starts out. Many parents of kids who struggle later either don’t make their kids study at all or are fine with the amount of effort that gets their kid a C in middle school.

Unfortunately, when you only understand 60 to 70% of what gets taught at the middle school level, you enter high school almost doomed to failure. This is because the core principles that you learn in middle school all get used at the same time for every problem at the high school level. They’re also supposed to be ingrained by high school so that you can apply them by instinct rather than with conscious effort.

Getting Out of the Nose Dive

Ironically, fixing foundational issues gets easier as you get older. My own journey took me from a D in math as a senior to four years doing no math at all and then finally getting an A in math when I started studying commerce.

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The very first step is hearing and knowing that it is possible. The next step is finding out where the problem started and going back to learning and practicing the mathematics of that educational level. 

For example, many people who struggle with algebra do so because they don’t know their multiplication rules and tables by heart. What is needed is to find multiplication practice resources and relearn that skill first and then build on the new foundation. There are many resources and tips for teaching multiplication to yourself available on the internet.

Systemic Perceived Irrelevance

Another thing that makes learning math hard for many students is that no one ever ties the more abstract maths into real-life applications. Everyone can see why being able to add, subtract, and multiply would be useful in day-to-day situations, but what does trigonometry or differentiation have to do with anything? There are many different ways to solve this problem.

Cultivating Patience and Passion

We start by dispelling this idea by stating that complex math, particularly algebra, is an integral part of finances. Being able to work with exponents and interest rates can help you make sense of savings and investments. Probabilities also have a role to play in diversifying investments and working with risks.

These are only a few examples of where what you learn in school makes a big comeback in real life. Knowing that these things come back later in life motivates many students because they realize that math is a key part of their dream.

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You can also make math seem interesting by watching a movie or series that glorifies math. The Theory of Everything, 21, and A Beautify Mind are my favorite picks. Sometimes we need art to inspire us about areas of life we tend to overlook.

Bad Learning Environments

Math anxiety is a big roadblock for many students. This comes when someone has had a bad experience with a math teacher or lecturer. A person can heal on their own, but some extreme cases may require a therapist’s help

To get over this, it’s important to note that learning information is very hard with a deadline. If you need to backtrack to get a better foundation in place, rather take the approach of making a little progress every day. Avoid beating yourself up for not understanding complex problems by day one.

When you do your practice, set a timer for around 20 minutes on your phone. Promise yourself to concentrate only on the math until the alarm beeps. The focus this habit creates is much healthier (and quicker) than trying to do it with many screens and distractions around you.

Boost Your Learning Today

Some people who struggle with math have legitimate learning difficulties and need professional help throughout their journey. However, most people who wonder, “Why is math so hard?” are more than capable of excelling in math.

Big-picture thinkers may just need to change their perspective on solving math problems. Perhaps the student needs to re-visit their foundation or change their learning habits and environment. All of this is quite easy to do with online help and YouTube, but good teachers are also incredibly helpful.

If you need a great online resource, why not check out the rest of our education blog? We’d be happy to help boost your educational journey.

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