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Effective and Tested Techniques to Reduce Math Anxiety

By: tutor Marc L profile picture Marc L., Math Tutor, Dentist, Executive MBA from the University of Ottawa

“Math anxiety”, does it exist in real life? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’!!

What is “Math Anxiety”?

It is a feeling of anxiety, fear and apprehension that does affect your performance in mathematics.

Interestingly, the part of the brain attached to this fear overlaps with the area of the brain that detects bodily harm. This leads you to want to run away from the perceived danger. Students will typically shut down and say “I can’t do this!!” The defence mechanisms kick in and a wall is built to hide you from the problem at hand. Some people will live the rest of their lives avoiding situations that require math. Unfortunately, their full potential is never achieved.

How to overcome it?

The good news is that fear of math does not require a psychologist or medication.

Many students have a fear of failure and a fear of making mistakes because we often put too much emphasis on the correct answer and ignoring the steps taken to solve the problem.

Here is the number one reality in math: YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES! Mistakes should become a learning experience rather than a defeat. As a math tutor, I too make mistakes and it pleases me to no end when my pupil points out a mistake I have made. He or she is paying attention and using critical thinking abilities.

Several techniques to reduce “Math Anxiety”

When I tutor my students, I get them to change the “I can’t do this” to “I do not understand this.” Once we achieve that first step together, we can proceed to the next step of transforming a passive-aggressive student into a pro-active student. A pro-active student will start asking questions such as: “Why do we do it this way?” In order to learn, a person needs to make the subject relevant to their everyday life. Math concepts become easier to master when explained from a relevant point of view.

What techniques can be used to reduce math anxiety?

  • Discuss your feelings about math
  • Make math relevant to the student
  • You will make mistakes, learn from them
  • Evaluate your own learning
  • Develop quality thinking rather than memorizing formulas
  • Become an active learner
  • Create problem-solving techniques

A tutor should not teach math, a tutor should teach the understanding of math.