Does the thought of taking a math class put you over the edge? Does an algebraic equation make you squirm? Do fractions cause your brain to blow a gasket? If this sounds familiar, you probably suffer from math anxiety.
In my experience, people who have math anxiety have usually had a negative math experience some time in their lives. Maybe they were slow to learn their times tables or they missed a week or two of math and never caught up. Whatever the reason, math anxiety can be debilitating, especially when it comes time for testing. Fortunately, help is available—from your own brain!
A recent study done by the University of Chicago found that math anxiety doesn’t have to derail you. “People with math anxiety don’t have to perform poorly,” said study co-author Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “Their success depends on how they marshal their brain power to focus on the task at hand” (Moisse, 2011). The study found that it didn’t matter what you know—you can activate the areas of your brain that work on attention and motivation, and ace your tests. Here are some tips:
Tell yourself you can do it. In my 20 years of teaching and tutoring math, I have never had a student who simply did not understand math. I have had plenty of students who thought they didn’t understand, but with a little effort they were able to do it. You can too.
Learn your times tables. This seems a little silly, but I really think that about half of the time students’ math anxiety comes from not knowing their times tables. Times tables aren’t math, they are memorization. So, if you can memorize the Pledge of Allegiance or your social security number, you can learn your times tables. Just get some flash cards or go to a website like Bigbrainz.com and get to work. It will empower you!
Get help! Stevens-Henager College has excellent math teachers, and they are here to help you. Attend class, participate, and ask questions. Call or email your teacher if you are having trouble. SHC also has a tutoring center available. Use it! And check out Khanacademy.org for excellent math videos and exercises. It will be your new best friend.
Don’t panic. In one of my classes I had a student who kept saying “I don’t understand this,” but she couldn’t form a specific question. She was in panic mode. After class, she opened the recording of the class and used it to walk her through the homework. She aced every assignment and test. Often in the live sessions or in a PowerPoint, the material comes at you really fast. It is easy to get confused. Just remember you can go back and watch it again at your own pace. You will be fine!
Your brain is programmed to understand math. You use math every day when you tell time and use money. You are perfectly capable of doing well in your college math class—just don’t let your fears get the best of you!
Moisse, K. (2011, October 20). Brain imaging offers clues to math anxiety. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/AnxietyNews/math-anxiety-brain-imaging-offers-clues-coping/story?id=14769210
Jean Bourne is the lead CSS math instructor for the Online department of Stevens-Henager College. Bourne teaches CSS099 Basic and CSS099PA Pre-Algebra (math refresher courses), and Bourne is also an avid math lover.