When I gave my maths O Level exam, I heaved a sigh of relief that it was the last time I would have anything to do with this subject that I dreaded. I kept my promise to myself and didn’t study maths in any form in the years ahead.
But I can’t say that I didn’t ever have to use maths at all, because numbers, calculations, estimation and a lot of other mathematical stuffs are encountered in everyday life. And often we are dealing with maths without even realising it.
What I did realise though, was that I am not as bad at maths, especially mental maths, as I perceived myself to be when I was in school. And it has made
me wonder why I feared it so much and considered it to be such a difficult subject?
I am sure many of you reading this can relate to the general dislike and fear of maths that I have confessed to and many of you are ready to give up without even giving it your best shot — just like I did.
But maths really isn’t as difficult as it is reputed to be. Any subject that one starts studying seems difficult until we start giving it time, and putting in effort to understand and learn it. And each subject has some difficult parts that cannot be mastered without some extra effort.
The same is that case with maths, but many a times we give up even before making an attempt to understand it because we have already said to ourselves: “I can’t do it”, “I am not a maths person”, “This is too difficult”, or we even ask ourselves, “Why do I have to study maths?”
I can now look back and say that I probably never got around to being comfortable with maths because I never had a teacher who inspired the love of maths in me, who made the subject seem interesting and doable.
The final years of my school maths class were spent with our teacher coming to the class, working the problems on the blackboard and all of us duly copying it and then having to do some sums ourselves. He was so uninspiring that I didn’t even bother asking him a question in class when I didn’t understand something and preferring to go back home and ask my elder brother.
But why am I telling you guys all this? Well, it’s because I do regret missing out on the chance to understand, learn and love maths, and I do not want this to happen to any other student.
I want to tell you all that maths is neither a mystery nor a monster. It is a subject that will only become your best friend if you make the effort to embrace it, give it a chance to show you its magic and pledge an alliance to it by practising it with a passion. Sounds poetic, doesn’t it?
Simply put, ‘mathematics is a study of patterns and a means of representing and describing the world in terms of quantities, shapes and relationships.’ Maths needs to be understood rather than learnt, and one of the main ways this can be done is by teaching it in the right way. Unfortunately, most of the time, mathematics teachers, especially in junior classes, teach this subject more by accident than by choice. They just lack the passion to infuse the love and understanding of numbers in their students by teaching it in the most unimaginative and uninteresting way. But there are many good teachers around, though not all of us are lucky enough to get them.
So while we can’t do much about how we are taught maths, but we can do a lot about how we learn maths. We can make the effort to overcome the fear of the subject and study it in the way that it deserves — with dedication and determination. We need to take the time to understand the formulas and principles, master the basics and practise it a lot.
If maths is studied in the right way, anyone can do well in it. So let’s look at some of the ways in which maths can become as easy as ABC!
Practise until you are perfect
Mathematics needs plenty of ‘doing’. Maths involves, logic, formulas, processes and methods that you learn through solving the problems rather than memorisation. Even if you have understood the concepts, there are still many exceptions to the rules and tricky ways of asking a simple question that you will only be able to handle if you have done something similar before, or practised the sums of that topic enough.
Luckily, there are now so many practise books available in the market and so many free practise maths exercises on websites which can help you here.
Homework comes first
Maths homework is very important, it is a way to practise what you have been taught. Even if a teacher has not given you one, you need to do related questions of what has been taught in the class that day to understand it better. It is part of the practise exercise that maths requires.
Homework and studying what has been taught each day in class is also a good way to make yourself ready for what will come next as it will, in many cases, be an advance form of what you were taught.
Focus in class
In a maths class, block out everything to concentrate on what the teacher is saying and doing. No daydreaming or throwing paper balls!
A maths class requires active learning, it’s as if the teacher is solving a puzzle in class and you need to be actively involved in solving that puzzle with him.
When the teach solves a question on the board, focus on what he or she is doing and try to solve the sum with them. If an explanation is being given, takes notes so that you can go though it later.
One of the main mistakes students make is that they only note down the solved sums from the board, but don’t bother to jot down the tips and explanations given by the teacher. So when a child tries to do some questions on their own later on, they get stuck as the solved sums noted down do not make sense without the explanation the teacher had also given. Sometimes, the tips and tricks in tackling a question can be more important than the method of doing it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Maths is a subject where until you solve a problem you are facing, you can’t move ahead. You can escape a difficulty for the time being, but it will only grow bigger and come back to you as maths is a cumulative subject.
You need a strong foundation or you’ll not be able to do it. The right place to ask a question is in the class when you are not understanding something. The teacher will know that you find that part difficult and they will make the effort to explain it to you.
If you still don’t get it, ask any classmate who is good in maths and is helpful, to tell you how it is done. The sooner you solve your problem, the easier it will be for you to understand it. Also catch your teacher in your free period or recess, and also request for an extra class of a particularly difficult topic.
A good maths tutor should be the ultimate answer when things are getting out of hand. But of course, you must take into consideration the cost involved before asking your parents for this.
Again, there are many useful videos and websites with maths lessons that should be referred to under the guidance of an adult.
Learn from every mistake
Like no other subject, maths teaches more from the mistakes we make than the sums we get right. And, again like no other subject, we are doomed to make the same mistake again if we don’t fix it the first time.
Until you know what you did wrong and why, you will never be able to do it right. So do the corrections of all the questions you get wrong.
Get a study buddy
A study buddy or a study group to discuss maths, do the problems together and boost each other’s understanding is another way to foster learning of this subject, and all other subjects.
Friends play an important role in life and have great influence on us, so choose your friends wisely who will nurture your academic growth.
Believe in yourself
You can do it, keep telling yourself this and shut out all negative thoughts from your mind. Anyone can be good at maths, all it needs is the right approach.
Published in Dawn, Young World, September 21st, 2019