What is it?
Math anxiety has been defined as a feeling of tension and apprehension that arises when someone is faced with manipulating numbers and solving mathematical problems. It is not just associated with academic settings. It can show its ugly head in many ordinary life situations.
In academic settings, though, math anxiety can cause students to perform poorly on math tests, homework, and just in class generally. Very often, a studentís poor performance in a mathematics class is not just the result of a lack of knowledge. It can be tied to math anxiety as well. Someone with math anxiety is not mentally deficient. But, it can cause a student to lose focus and to lose confidence in mathematical situations, thus impacting future success in mathematical requirements.
What causes it?
Math is linear in nature. In most classes it is possible to skip one chapter and still understand the other material covered. Not so with mathematics. In this discipline a student must learn and understand a process before moving on to the next one. In other words, what you learn in Chapter One is the foundation of what will be taught in Chapter Two.
Math is like a language. It has many symbols that appear foreign until you really understand what each means. You canít expect to take Spanish, for example, one week and be fluent in it the next week. It is the same in mathematics. Practice makes perfect. Doing one or two homework problems is simply not enough practice to fully grasp the concepts covered in the chapter. Do all the problems assigned. Try doing a few of the ones not assigned, as well. You can be ďfluentĒ in math if you work at it.
Donít expect your college math classes to mirror those you had in high school. In a secondary setting, you went to math class every day and were saturated with the materials covered that semester. In college, however, you are expected to learn the same amount of material but in a shorter amount of time with less contact, often, with your instructor. What you had a year to learn in high school will now be covered in about 14 -16 weeks, and you are expected to fully understand it before exiting the class.
Remember, math requires a different mindset. In other classes you may just need to listen, take notes, and then learn the material without really applying what you learned. In math, you will be taking what you have learned and using it to solve equations or a set of problems.
Donít despair! You can do mathematics. In fact, you probably use more math daily than you realize. Balanced a checkbook lately? Doubled a recipe? If math begins to get you down, come to the Learning Assistance Center and let the tutors get you back on track. You can succeed in your math classes!
How do I know that I have Math Anxiety?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I become anxious and forget important concepts during a math test?
- Do I blame the instructor if I donít do well on math assignments and tests?
- Do I stop taking notes in class when I get confused?
- Am I afraid to ask questions in math class?
- Do I stop working a problem as soon as I get stuck?
- Do I feel like it is impossible for me to understand math?
If you answered ďyesĒ to several of them, then you probably do suffer from Math Anxiety.
Strategies for reducing math anxiety:
- Go to every math class, without fail.
- If you must miss a class, ask the instructor if you can attend another section so you can keep up with the work.
- Make sure you read the text carefully. Donít skip over the explanations. They are there for a reason.
- Try making a vocabulary list or an outline of the material in the chapter. Math does have its own vocabulary, and you need to be familiar with it.
- Get tutoring as soon as you recognize a problem.
- Always ask your instructor if you have a question about your assignment.
- Copy everything on the board. Repeat the steps mentally and try to work the problem. Make note cards with the steps to remind yourself of the process to solve problems.
- Study as soon as possible after your class. If you wait too long, you will forget what was covered in class. Try to make consistent study times at a point during the day when you are alert and focused. Have a set start and stop time and stick to it.
- Find a place that is relatively free of distractions and make that your consistent place to study.
- Turn off the phone, TV, and music while you study. It does make a difference.
- Form a study group from your classmates. Make sure you choose students who are motivated and disciplined so you can support each other.
- Donít study for extended periods. Take a break every 30 minutes or so.
- If you are frustrated with a concept, stop. Get up. Get some fresh air. Come back to it in a few minutes when your mind is clear.
- Watch the video tapes that accompany your text. You can find them in the LAC and in the library.
- Do some math work every day.
- Review your notes and homework before you go into class. That will give you a reference point when the instructor begins the lecture for that class session.