Overcoming Math Anxiety

A chewed-up pencil is representative of my past math-related experiences. (Image courtesy of Stock Exchange.)

A chewed-up pencil is representative of my past math-related experiences. (Image courtesy of Stock Exchange.)

Something that makes me feel better about my phobia of math is the knowledge that I am not alone. (Something else that makes me feel better is the fact that my skills with numbers are no longer being tested, and that I am allowed to use a calculator in my everyday life – but that’s another story.)

A quick Google search of “math anxiety” yields over nine million results. Most of these results link to pieces about how common math anxiety really is, as well as strategies to help people overcome this concern. Most of these tips are for high school students. They don’t exactly apply to me – I’m not writing math tests every few weeks anymore – but they are still worth thinking about, and they can actually be applied to a lot of other anxieties as well. For example, it’s important to recognize that math anxiety is an emotional response to something intimidating – it has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with confidence. Chances are, if you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t do it. On the flipside, if you believe in yourself, you’re a lot more likely to succeed.

A widespread belief is that girls are more prone to math anxiety than boys, and that boys are better at math. However, this article from Science Daily refutes both of those beliefs. In one study, elementary and high school students were asked to measure their level of anxiety. It concluded that girls more often report general anxiety about math. But when it comes to math tests, reported levels of anxiety are about the same. Another study suggests that some girls underperform in math class because they believe the stereotype that girls are inherently bad at math, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In my quest to conquer my fear of math and logic puzzles, I’m keeping these articles and studies in mind – particularly the lesson that confidence is key and I shouldn’t get discouraged if I make mistakes. Like all things in life, success in math means not being afraid of being wrong; it's an important part of figuring out how to be right.

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Janet Goertzen

Janet graduated from Bishop’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2010. She hopes to someday make a living from her words while continuing to avoid the terror of numbers. In her spare time, Janet can be found reading, playing trivia games, watching cat videos, or correcting people’s grammar on the internet.

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