Overcoming Math Anxiety
I. Reasons Why Students Experience Math Anxiety
1. Students tend to memorize material and concepts in mathematics as opposed to learning the corresponding concepts.
2. Students are often under prepared. Math is cumulative. Tutors are sometimes better able to address the preparedness of a student for the subsequent course. Ask your tutor about your own preparedness to continue to the next course.
3. A lack of a variety of instruction often hinders a student’s ability to learn a concept. Select a section of the course you plan to take that incorporates multiple teaching strategies.
II. Selecting A Mathematics Course
1. Be certain that a math course is at the appropriate level. Do not register for a course for which you do not have the necessary background. This is especially true for advanced courses. Both anxiety and a waste of resources result in misplacement.
2. Enroll in a math class during a semester that immediately follows the semester that you enrolled in the prerequisite course.
3. Schedule a class at a time slot during which you are mentally sharp.
4. Select a section of a course that meets frequently. This is particularly important at the Algebra level.
5. Encourage discussion of instructors among friends. Often, friends can give meaningful insight into the appropriateness of an instructor.
6. Meet the instructor. Compare your learning style to his/her teaching style.
III. Reducing Anxiety
1. Experience the anxiety! Feel it and its consequences. Practice relaxation techniques, including deep breathing exercises. This sounds extreme, but it has been known to truly help.
2. Practice focusing away from yourself. Redirect yourself to the math.
3. Eliminate defeating self-talk. Everyone can do mathematics (this is not a universally held belief among mathematics educators at the post-secondary level). Even a student with a low skill level has an intuitive feel for many of the concepts. Exploit this as a building block for developing or reinforcing a concept.
4. View studying mathematics like learning a foreign language. It must be practiced.
5. It is important to get help early. Do not wait in a given semester to seek the help you need.
6. Get help the same day that you do not understand a concept.
7. If you miss a class, do not try to simply neglect an entire lecture. Ask the instructor if you can attend a different section. Ask for any handouts that may have been circulated during the class meeting you missed. It is your responsibility to contact your instructor for a lecture/class meeting missed.
8. Read the text prior to attending class and prior to attending a tutorial meeting. Read ahead and have prepared questions for either or both the instructor and the tutor.
9. Practice communicating (talking and writing) mathematics. Often, we are not forced to communicate in the classroom. Forming study groups with friends reinforces your understanding of the material through both studying and communicating the mathematics.
10. At every opportunity, do not memorize. Understand a concept instead. Longevity and confidence are the advantageous outcomes of the latter.
11. Ask questions (inside class and out). One is more apt to not re-commit a mathematical error if he/she has had such an error identified in his/her own work.
12. Train yourself to identify and understand what is confusing. This amounts to coming to class and to tutorial meetings prepared. Know what the issue is.
13. Take advantage of available help:
i) walk-in tutoring
ii) assigned tutoring
iii) videocassette tapes
iv) tutorial software
IV Study Strategies
1. Study math and do math homework in an environment where you can feel relaxed and comfortable. Follow this guideline during tutorial sessions and study groups with friends as well.
2. Study according to your learning style (this requires knowing your learning style)
3. Develop set times to do homework. A math lab is a good place!
4. Write down questions for your tutor or for your instructor while doing homework.
5. Attend every class.
6. Do not use your tutorial meetings to replace classroom instruction. This defeats the purpose of a tutor.
7. Acknowledge the great number of hours per week needed in studying mathematics.
8. Augment both classroom instruction and tutorial help with studying with a friend.
9. Take good notes. Just as important, USE these notes. i.e., review the notes taken! Review them with your tutor during a session, if needed.
10. Mark missed problems in the homework and rework them. Rework missed problems on quizzes and exams as well.
11. Practice problems until you are comfortable with them. Do not merely complete an exercise to arrive at a solution for the sole purpose of moving on.
12. I strongly encourage the use of flashcards (formulas, vocabulary, method for solving a particular type of problem, etc.)
13. I also strongly encourage drawing pictures and writing verbal models.
14. Develop the habit of addressing the appropriateness of a solution to a problem.
V Reducing Anxiety over Test Taking
i) Keep up to date on the material! Discourage yourself from cramming the night before.
ii) Develop or use text generated review questions. Ask your instructor to provide review questions.
iii) Train yourself how to relax before entering the testing room.
i) Develop the habit of previewing the test; read or scan the entire test prior to working on any of the problems.
ii) Before beginning the test, create notes on formulas or concepts.
iii) Begin with the easy questions, or the questions with which you feel most comfortable.
iv) Be aware of the time.
v) Take advantage of the full amount of time allotted for the exam.
i) Keep a diary or a log of mistakes made.
ii) Keep all exams for review for later exams.
1. Tutoring provides supportive teaching immediately after a student makes a mistake – a traditional classroom environment cannot provide you such a service. For this reason, tutoring provides a supplemental environment that is very important in reducing anxiety over both failure and slowness in learning math concepts by providing this “crisis” teaching.
2. Tutoring can address particular learning styles that classroom delivery of material often does not. A tutor often knows you better than your instructor. He/she can help you know yourself (in the sense that you identify your particular weaknesses and strengths).
3. Become aware of alternative learning mediums beyond classroom and tutorial sessions. This particular institution has available for many of our classes all or a combination of videocassettes, tutorial software, and technology.
4. Create an environment that is both relaxing and comfortable.
5. Counter beliefs that are counterproductive:
i) “It is socially accepted to not understand mathematics”
ii) “I am seeking a major in History, I need absolutely no mathematical skills”
iii) “I am gender/economically/culturally biased to not understand mathematics”