Tips for Getting Over a Fear of Math

By Dan Gryboski, StraighterLine Professor of Math

If you say you have a fear of math, or that you hate math, is it possible that what you really hate are math classes? If so, I don’t necessarily blame you. If a single math course stands between you and your college degree, I can understand the anxiety you might feel. So let’s talk about what math is and what math is not.

What Math Is and What Math is Not

Math is something you already use all the time. Math is not, and should not be, confined to a particular class. Whenever you double a recipe or think about how long your road trip will be, you use math. You’re not really afraid of math; it’s just all those symbols and rules in a math book! Well, all those symbols and rules are just a shorthand way of communicating our math from one person to another. It’s not unlike something else that uses specific symbols and rules.

Think about all the symbols you see on your smartphone, and the order in which you tap them to text a friend. It takes a couple of tries the first time, but then you can do it. Alright, math in college takes a little more practice than that. But the point is that you will eventually be able to do it.

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Math is a Useful Tool Anyone Can Use

Like a hammer, math is a useful tool that anyone can use. Math is not a device used to “weed out” students in a particular degree program. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, you would probably swear and put the hammer down. But after a few minutes you’d use that very same hammer to hang pictures on your walls. So it is with math that you can come back after a disappointing setback. You will eventually be able to do it.

Math Makes Life Simpler

Math has been developed to make life simpler, believe it or not. We multiply 4 times 5 because it’s faster than adding 5+5+5+5. We write an equation to summarize a word problem because it’s less cumbersome than hanging on to all those words. Hey, I snuck in the idea of a word problem! Yes! Because life is a word problem. If you are not afraid of life, you are not afraid of a word problem.

If you have had a rough time with math in the past, consider this: That was then, before you tackled some other very big life decisions and endeavors. Compared to these huge events, a word problem from a book is child’s play. You are better prepared than ever before to take on a college math class!

About the Author: Math Professor Dan Gryboski received his Bachelor's degree in Math and Computer Science from Colorado College. He wanted to design roller coasters, so he got his Master's in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado. After working as an engineer for 4 years, he took the calling to become a teacher. Before teaching for StraighterLine, he taught math at community colleges, universities, and high school.

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