“Maths is just too difficult. I’ll never get it right!” This is probably something you have heard said before, or even said yourself.

Of all the subjects in the school curriculum, maths is undoubtedly one of the most important, everyone could benefit from ways on how to get better at math, but if you, like so many people have a mental block about it, there are ways to learn how to study math effectively.

If this sounds like you and you really want to know how to make math easy, keep reading because this article is for you!

When it comes to mathematics knowledge, people usually fit into two basic categories. Which one is you?

  • You have a natural aptitude for maths and have understood all aspects from day 1. In fact, you are at the top of the class. You find it exciting and have never worried about needing to keep up with your classmates. Your mathematics knowledge is well above average.
  • You are always wondering how to get better at math because you struggle and fear that you will be left behind in class. You have possibly struggled with key aspects like multiplication or algebra in the past. This has sadly prevented you from progressing in your mathematics knowledge because you lack a solid foundation on which to build!

At first glance, the black and white nature of maths seems to mean that you are either naturally wired for it or not. But this is not necessarily the case, there are many things that could be standing in your way of grasping maths concepts and it’s extremely likely that your brain is not one of them!

Gaining high-level mathematics knowledge is possible for everyone.

However, it is true that regardless of why you feel that maths made easy will never be a reality, once you have the tools that show you how to study math effectively, you might change your tune. In fact, you might even begin to enjoy it.

Did you know that very often, a fear of maths can be brought on by things that have absolutely nothing to do with maths at all! Your inability to see maths made easy could be triggered by an emotional issue, negative early learning experience, or myriad other things. The key is to find strategies that will show you how to make math easy.

Above all else, keeping an open mind and positive attitude will help you to approach maths from a different perspective – one that will not only show you how to study math effectively but actually increase your mathematics knowledge.

Trial and Error Increases Brain Development

One of the people who have looked closely into the reasons that children struggle with maths is Professor Jo Boaler, a Standford University Maths teacher. When the seven your old son of a colleague declared that he simply didn’t like maths, his mother enquired why. His response was that maths is always asking for answers but never teaches us anything!

This story, like so many others, is typical of how primary school children find the objective of maths hazy to say the least, by comparison to their other subjects. This of course is ironic, considering that maths actually dictates a clear answer.

Educators are beginning to realise that to ensure that every child receives the best possible maths education, sometimes it is necessary to change the approach!

One of the great myths around maths is that there is no such thing as a ‘mathematical brain’. It is much more true to say that mastering maths depends on finding teaching methods that are uniquely right for every individual.

There is therefore no reason why you cannot use your own individual method to tackle multiplication, division or trigonometry homework. Actually, this path would be the more accurate one to becoming a true mathematician.

It may surprise you to know that there is a link between mathematical ability and self-esteem but neuroscience has found a significant link between a learner’s opinion of himself or herself and their academic success.

Not only that but science always shows that the human brain is able to either grow physically or shrink, depending on the ways in which it is used!

headphones, notebook and calculator
Don't be afraid of using your own methods to solve maths problems. - Source: Unsplash

In an interesting study, London taxi drivers who had to memorise every street name in order to get their licence were used. The brain capacity of the new drivers increased, while those of the retired drivers who no longer needed the information, shrunk.

When it comes to how the brain works through trial and error, it is quite simple. The brain develops through exercise, so when there are heightened levels of concentration, like when you are stuck on an algebra problem, the increased brain activity, causes neurons to multiply. This means that you can arrive at the same answer next time in less time, and you have improved your thinking skills at the same time! This is enough of a good reason to be encouraged if you feel like you are struggling with maths.

Trial and error work across all complex maths disciplines including polynomial functions, differential equations, quadratic equations, geometry and so much more.

The Boaler Method

In another study, it was found that the brains of children who found maths problematic, versus those who demonstrated maths excellence, behaved differently. The phenomenon, first identified by Professor Jo Boaler found that different areas of a child’s brain actually light up when trying to solve maths problems.

Boaler’s teaching methods include two important modalities. The first is to represent mathematics visually, while the second is continually monitor the learner’s progress by discussing their views, strengths, and weakness on a daily basis.

Most encouragingly, a study has shown that maths made easy is possible for any child when the teaching is adapted to these methods.

When it comes to how to get better at math, Prof Boaler has a lot to teach us. She estimates that a mere 2-3% of the population experiences genuine difficulty when learning maths. This means that most of us are absolutely capable of learning how to study math effectively, even at a high level.

People from all walks of life who have learnt maths via the traditional methods are often surprised at how to make math easy through the visual method. This is probably because it goes against the brain’s understanding that numbers and visualisation have anything in common. And yet, Boaler proves that this is true.

It is also why the colourful apps and tools that are the epitome of maths made easy, and are available to young learners these days are such a huge success.

One of the main reasons why these methods are successful is that they encourage both halves of the brain to work together. So many of us have been misled to believe that our left and right brains function independently. The truth is that when they work together, they benefit from each other.

female student carring burgundy backpack
Find the Maths method that works for you, and your confidence in class will grow. - Source: Unsplash

The State of Mind Required for Maths

Teachers are beginning to realise that a student’s general well-being and self-confidence has a lot to do with their progress in maths.

Who would have thought that a positive state of mind was how to make math easy? However, it certainly can change not only the learning process but the results too.

Fortunately, this notion is gaining traction, and maths teachers are beginning to incorporate this approach into the classroom.

According to Boaler, children are in fact more capable when it comes to learning maths than other subjects. The stumbling block is sadly, often with the teacher, who fails to see the potential in a child. This of course creates a problem for the child who mirrors and internalises these damaging beliefs.

Boaler says that negative mindsets are reinforced when children are required to answer yes and no questions which mean that answers are either completely right or wrong which removes the space for constructive discussion on exactly how to make math easy.

For Boaler, the visual alternative opens up a dialogue that supports different viewpoints on how to arrive at a solution to a math problem.

She proposes that instead of learners working through endless worksheets and quizzes, only to be met with a tick or a cross, they should be able to even engage in addition games when looking at ways to how to get better at math.

Allowing students to find solutions to interactive games lets them engage their creative side to help improve their maths skills. This shows them that other learning strategies are available, which is something that is invaluable for all areas of life.

So what are some of the more practical ways to really see maths made easy? Games like maths bingo can be a useful resource, especially for parents or a math tutor who wants to revise the topics already learnt in class. Check out maths websites like Hooda Math and BBC Bitesize Maths for fantastic games and maths aids.

Learning Maths Without Pressure

There’s no doubt that as humans a little pressure is beneficial. It motivates us and engages our healthy side.

However, the downside of this shows up in another study that reveals that constant pressure, especially when caused by time constraints can cause an unhealthy mental block. The result is that the brain is not at its most efficient in its processes.

Unfortunately, whether it is at school, during homework, or at extra maths, obstacles caused by pressure are too common.

In an age where childhood anxiety is on the rise, the added pressure during maths means that the child will focus on the stress and potentially get lost.

Very often, a teacher will call on learners to answer questions in front of the whole class. This quick-fire format reiterates the idea that calculating at speed is what counts. The irony with this is that even a mathematician with a Ph.D. won’t necessarily process numbers faster than the rest of us. They just use certain techniques to make it easier, and these are techniques that anyone can learn.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA, which is considered to be a measure of performance in many subjects including maths, is of great interest to educators who want to see how their subjects, including mathematics, perform around the world.

Interestingly, studies carried out by PISA have shown that children who live in countries where math teaching relies on memorisation rank the worst. Conversely, those countries who take a different approach and appreciate the varying processes that follow the same rule and, ultimately outcome, do better.

game of cards
There are many games that serve as Maths learning aids. - Source: Unsplash

Also, PISA findings show that repeating tasks is not an effective method to learn.

So forget about the parrot fashion multiplication and instead, put times tables into the form of a game. The idea is that children need constructive and alternative methods for approaching maths problems from different perspectives.

The Boaler method which has revolutionised the way maths is taught in the USA is available in several of her books for teachers. In fact, more than 100 000 schools have tested her methods with a recent survey even reporting that 96% of students hope to continue with maths even if they encounter difficulties along the way.

Finding a Progressive Maths Tutor

Due to the fact that maths tutors are usually dealing with students who are having difficulties with certain aspects of mathematics, they are generally aware of the problems that can arise for some students through mainstream teaching and big classes.

And there is no doubt that slowing things down if you are having maths difficulties, by returning to the basics, or going over problems, one-on-one with a tutor can have powerful results.

The fact is that teaching math in a one size fits all approach is not effective and this is where private tutoring can help a child improve their maths foundations, catch up on areas where they got lost, and boost their self-confidence.

Many people have been surprised to find out just how much they enjoy maths when the right help is on hand. So go on, find a maths tutor near you and start enjoying the exciting subject of maths.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.