Terrified of Math?

  1. I've seen a few posts that deal with anxiety about math or wondering if passing math is a realistic goal. I want to share a personal story that I hope will have the effect of inspiring those who are terrified of math.

    Due to extreme family dysfunction, I did not attend school after the sixth grade. I did get my GED when I was 16, but I attribute my passing the GED to a great deal of luck (many questions I simply made blind guesses at). Every time I tried to "figure math out", I would freeze up and my mind would cease to work. I couldn't even multiply numbers without having to struggle for the answer, unless they were the easy ones like 5's.

    I bought into the myth that some people were just good at math naturally, while others didn't have a knack for it. This is a stereotype that is very common in our culture. That math is something that requires talent or a gift. Forgive my language, but I cannot say this strongly enough....that is utter ********! Nobody comes out the womb with a gift for math. This is a skill that is learned through repetition and a lot of practice. It is interesting to note that the whole concept of "math anxiety" is unique to the United States. People in other countries do not readily accept that math is easier for men than it is for women. Having quality math teachers matters so much. If you have had experiences with teachers who either overtly or covertly insinuate that some students "just don't get it", you'll find yourself believing it. Do a google or Yahoo! search on math anxiety and do some reading, I personally found it very liberating to learn that math phobias are learned and promoted by our culture (U.S.) and that there is absolutely no scientific basis for it. This is not to say that math phobias do not exisit, I am saying that the underlying reason of why we have math anxiety is not due to an inate inability to learn it, it's a learned reaction.

    Fast Forward to 2001. I knew that if I was ever going to have a good job, I would need to go to college and at the very least, learn a skill. I knew that in order to get any type of college degree, I would have to pass college algebra. I didn't even have any clue as to what type of problems were involved in college algebra, I just knew that I couldn't do them. I had to begin at the beginning. I bought several "math for dummies" type of books and took it very slowly. I also bought a huge book of math problems so that I could practice each skill. Many of the books that I bought (even though they were for dummies) were still a bit advanced for me. I felt so stupid. My husband is very intelligent and even though he would sit with me and help me out when I needed it, I was still very insecure about how little I knew. The books that helped me the most were:

    The Princeton Review's "Math Smart...Getting a grip on basic math".
    Learning Express's "Practical Math...Success in 20 Minutes a Day".
    Cliffs Study Solver "Basic Math and Pre-Algebra".

    I found these books at Barnes and Nobles and Books-a-Million. Prior to enrolling in the basic math class at my local community college, I read these books and practiced problems every day for a few weeks.

    I ended up with a B in basic math. At least now I knew how to add, subtract, mutiply and divide...fractions too!

    I decided that even though I was still convinced that I'd probably never be able to pass College Algebra, I'd go ahead and take Beginning Algebra. I was lucky to have a teacher who did a pretty good job of explaining things. After each class I would go home and re-copy my notes from class and using the problems that we worked in class as my guide, I did my homework. Imagine my surprise when I ended up with an A in Beginning Algebra.

    Still not conviced that I'd be able to tackle College Algebra, but a bit more confident than when I first began, I enrolled in Intermediate Algebra. I was surprised to learn that most of Intermediate Algebra was merely a continuation of Beginning Algebra, we were just adding a few more wrinkles to the problems, taking them a bit more in depth. I struggled a bit with functions (domain and range) and I didn't particularly feel good about graphing equations either. I kept plodding along doing my homework EVERY day, even re-doing problems I had already worked. If I came to a problem that I didn't understand, the best way for me to handle that was to look in the answer guide. We had a Student Solutions Manual that solved the problems step by step. This was useful because I could visually identify where I was having trouble! I got an A in Intermediate Algebra.

    By this time, my confidence had risen. I was far more confident than when I had started this journey back in Basic Math, but to be honest, I was still a bit afraid. Passing College Algebra had been a goal for so long now, that it seemed almost mythical in nature. I had one semester left and I knew it would be the hardest math class I ever took. Up until this point, I had been getting straight A's in math and all of my other classes, so now my goal was to not only PASS it, but I wanted an A in it too! Greedy eh?

    If I had known that College Algebra would be more functions (I got my lowest test grade on functions) and graphing even more equations (thrown in were parabola's, absolute value functions/graphs, etc) I would have been more scared than I was. But something amazing happened. When we got to those sections, they made more sense the second time around. I wasn't totally clear on everything, but for some reason I wasn't too stressed out about it. Somewhere along the way I gained something that I didn't expect: confidence. I knew in my heart that I would be able to figure it out because after all, I had some success under my belt and as a result I felt like I could handle more difficult problems. This isn't to say that I was entirely rid of my nervousness, but toward the end of that semester I was more excited about passing College Algebra than I was scared to fail.

    I took my final December 13, 2005 and got an A. I honestly did not believe I could have done it, but I did. And not only that, I feel like I could even go on to a higher math course. I took statistics during this last semester as well (and got an A) so that goes to illustrate that even though I wasn't 100% consciously aware that my confidence had risen, it must have because I breezed right through stats.

    I had a long hard jouney with math, and it doesn't end here. I am starting an ADN nursing program in January and there will be a lot math involved in conversion, dosage calculations, etc. But the difference is that now I have a track record of success and this will help me through.

    If I had to narrow down the best advice for how to get through math, it is this:

    Brush up on the basics before you tackle the hard stuff. You need a good solid foundation.

    Utilize the resources that are available on the internet and in a lot of cases, your math text will have an online learning component. USE THESE.

    Purplemath and math.com are great sites to visit when you need alternate explanations of how to work a problem. I used these sites plenty!

    Math is something you MUST practice. Copy your notes the very same day you had them in class so that you reinforce what you learned.

    Work problems EVERY day. Even if it's just 3 or 4. I can't tell you how many times I "forgot" how to work a problem that I knew only days before. It's frustrating, but with practice, you will see the results.

    Choose your math teacher by getting advice from other students who had anxiety with math. I have a hunch that my College Algebra teacher use to have a math phobia because the way he teaches is really geared toward thorough explanations, as though he anticipates where we are most likely to be confused and then he spent time going over those points.

    Think about math when you are driving or taking a shower. If you can picture a problem in your head and state aloud what steps you would take to solve it, you'd be amazed how effective that is.

    Take breaks when you get frustrated, but always come back to it. It is our nature to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable, but this is the only way to conquor it.

    I wish you the very best and please remember...if doing well in math is something that you want (and you're willing to work for it), victory will be yours!

    Adri
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  2. 17 Comments

  3. by   timster1984
    I can't agree with this more, since I'm kind of from the same background to an extent. Anyone who has trouble with math just needs to work the problems until they make sense....getting the correct answer to a math problem isn't the key to learning math, learning /how/ they get the correct answer is the key. I started off with basic algebra myself and it was a cakewalk after I learned the formulas. I'm taking the same route as lostdruid, intermediate algebra next semester and college algebra the next semester after, the only difference is I'll have to take pre-calculus then calculus after college algebra instead of stats.

    Anyone who struggles with math just needs to find a good teacher and the right course to start from, then just take baby steps to harder stuff.
  4. by   emndarmic
    Thank you so much for this post.. I am one of these people, I am more scared of my basic math and pre-algebra class than I am A&P class, isn't that horrible. I have a book from the basic math class that my brother in law already took, but I still get stumped and he is never around to help me. I have thought about ordering one of those "Math made easy" videos so I can fast forward or rewind when needed. I'm not taking my class until spring quarter so I still have some time to figure things out, my county offers a basic math-pre algebra class free to the public which I think I am going to attend. It would be great to learn what I need to about math to test out of the 1st class and go straight to the last one.Thanks for the inspiration.
  5. by   Jessy_RN
    I was terrified of math and still am, but once you are there with other math phobees you will find that everyone is willing to help each other. Best wishes to you all.
  6. by   Angels'
    lostdruid

    Thank you, the post you have written is very helpful.

    The following the suggestions/advice is more difficult. I am going to try using the post as a reminder and affirmation while studying to relearn my intermediate algebra to the A grade.

    I'm also preparing to use the math links help given in the
    Sticky thread: Math help links.

    Angels'
  7. by   timster1984
    Hmm, if that many people have trouble with math I'm wondering whether I should do math tutoring at the college...especially once I finish my next algebra class I'd be able to tutor intermediate algebra and below. It seemed really easy to me so I'm wondering if maybe it's just bad teachers that make this subject so difficult?
  8. by   WannaBRN4
    I can agree with anyone who says they just can't get the math. I had to take Math 101 and 102 in college. I made a C in 101 and a B in 102 suprisingly. I had to work VERY hard. I got a C in College Algebra. When it came to Nursing Math I had absolutely no problems. I passed with a 97/A. I knew it because I made an A on every test. It really isn't as hard as you may think to pass as the other Math classes. I wish you all well. BE Optimistic:chuckle
  9. by   Fun2, RN, BSN
    AGREEEEEED! lol

    I know that Math comes easier to some people, but the more a person studies, the easier it is.

    I am taking Algebra right now. I barely passed Algebra II in high school, made a B in the 2 of 3 pre-algebra college classes, skipped to College Algebra, and made a B then. That was 2001.


    So, here I am again having to retake it, and I have made a 100 on every quiz! :hatparty: :hatparty: :hatparty: I made a 100 on my first test too!:hatparty: :hatparty: :hatparty: :hatparty:

    I work the problems, and then do them all over again. If I don't understand something, I do them all over again!


    For my tests, I have been working the problems out, then working them all over again. If I didn't get the same answer both times, I check those few to see what I could have done wrong. Usually, it is only a simple addition or sign mistake.

    I'm waiting on my second and third test grades, and I'm expecting them to be A's as well.

    I'll be taking my midterm Tuesday, and 'I AIN'T SKEEERED!" "BRING THAT BAD BOY ON"!! :chuckle :chuckle :chuckle
  10. by   salsaking
    great post.....I really need to apply myself more in math.........due to my work schedule I had to take intermediate algebra on saturdays only (class meets every sat.) and it was difficult cramming whole chapters in one day. I ended up with a D so I will retake it next semester, hopefully the outcome is different.
  11. by   Fun2, RN, BSN
    Quote from salsaking
    great post.....I really need to apply myself more in math.........due to my work schedule I had to take intermediate algebra on saturdays only (class meets every sat.) and it was difficult cramming whole chapters in one day. I ended up with a D so I will retake it next semester, hopefully the outcome is different.
    Hi and welcome, salsaking.


    You can do it! The more problems you work, the more you begin to understand how to work a specific problem.

    At the beginning of some of the chapters, I'm ready to give up. By the time I've finished the lesson, and worked the homework problems several times over again, I know I can conquer Algebra.

    Good luck!
  12. by   salsaking
    yea I agree but for some reason I lack motivation at times and start slacking terribly towards the end........ I work 40 hr and take about 16 units a semester.
  13. by   caboose
    I have been lurking since I joined and haven't introduced myself, but I just had to write and say what an inspiration your post was to me. I graduated second in my LPN class, did well with Math for Meds but I fear the college math level 100x more than A & P myself as well. Your post has given me the idea that if I start first on my own, learn where I feel comfortable and where I am confortable (less knowledgeable) then start there with a good teacher and work my way up hopefully. I just had to say thank you for such an inspiring post! Thank you,

    Barbi in NJ
  14. by   cathleenmermaid
    Thank you so much for this thread! I had a terrible time with math in
    high school, I don't even remember taking most of the math I will need for
    entrance into college. I went all the way back to take a adult education
    math. I am having some trouble with pre-algebra but with a good teacher
    who does'nt make me feel stupid, I feel I can do it. Your post made me feel
    like I'm not alone. I have thought time after time maybe I can't be a nurse
    because of math but when I finally got fractions and even percents I was
    so excited! You see I'm 46 and thought I was to old to learn, I was wrong.
    Thanks again for giving me hope!:blushkiss

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