Math has never been my favorite subject. Most of the time, I’d like to be drawing a picture or writing a story—or even an essay—rather than trying to whittle down the infinite possible solutions to a mathematical problem until I find the right one.
Do you dislike math? The bad news is that if you want to graduate high school you’re going to have to do it anyway. And if you’re planning to go to college, it’s likely you’ll have even more math ahead of you.
You might as well get used to it. Numbers are here to stay. But there’s good news too! It is possible to make your time doing math more enjoyable.
And I have a few tips from my years and years of experience that will help you dread math less.
Choose a Suitable Time to Work
Don’t do your math when your brain is mush. And don’t do it when there are distractions calling your name either. Did you know that it takes 25 minutes on average to get your focus back after you lose it?
If you’re like me, math is going to require all the focus you can get, so be intentional! Maybe that means getting up early. Maybe that means turning off your notifications and flipping your device upside down so you don’t see them pop up. Sorry to break it to you, but your math is not going to do itself. (I know that from experience.)
Keep a Calculator, Notebook, and Your Writing Utensil of Choice Handy
Maybe math is extra awful for you because you spend the whole time staring at a screen, trying to think of the answer. It’s your mind versus the computer’s string of numbers and symbols, and all your hands do is poke at a few keys on the keyboard when you’re done.
Forget the staring contests. Even if you can do the equation in your head, switching to a hands-on strategy:
- makes math more fun,
- helps you check your work,
- helps you retain what you learn for later,
- and often speeds up the process!
If you can’t remember that 180 divided by 6 equals 30 quickly enough, just type it into a calculator (as long as that’s allowed). Also, rather than scrap paper, use a notebook for your work so you can reference old notes and solutions later.
And of course, keep your writing utensil of choice nearby! I prefer colored pens for specific reasons…
Add Some Color
Un-math-y people are often visual people, but that doesn’t mean math and color can’t get along. Have some fun with your math notebook. Pull out your colored pencils, pens, or markers when it’s time for Algebra 2 or Pre-Calc or whatever. Or if you are a more auditory person, turn on some music.
Give your notebook an index and use fancy headers to organize your topics. Copy down formulas you’re going to need, and use sticky page markers to find them later. Celebrate with stars and smiley faces when you find the answer to an equation.
Move Around, Take Breaks, and Have Snacks
Perhaps you are always holed up in your room when you do your math, thinking about what you’ll have for dinner. Have you ever tried taking your math outside with a bag of baby carrots? Much more enjoyable!
If it’s too cold or wet, even moving to your dining room can make a difference. Pair that with a trail mix, a tall glass of ice water, or maybe even bribe yourself with some Skittles.
Breaks are important too. Two 30-minute sessions of math are likely to be more productive than a 60-minute standoff, especially if you do something mindless in between—like having lunch or folding a basket of laundry.
When you sit down to learn something new, don’t let numbers overwhelm you. Try to focus on the concepts. Once you’ve got those down, you’ll find everything else much easier.
Khan Academy does an excellent job with this, and the videos are usually much easier to comprehend than anything my curriculums ever give me. Once, I was super stuck on something, and then it all clicked just two seconds into a Khan Academy video.
Also, try to think in units, or modules, or whatever you call a broad section of your math program. If your math is self-paced, often doing a unit at a time is more efficient than procrastinating for a week or two in between lessons. Lessons in a unit tend to click together nicely, and tackling them together gives you a much better understanding of the subject.
At the same time, don’t get sucked into a research hole. Once in a while, you’ll find yourself just plain stuck, despite what you do to get unstuck. Sometimes you just have to push through difficult lessons using whatever little you grasp.
Check your syllabus to see if you are going to need to have a good understanding of the topic for later. If not, just do the best you can to get a reasonable grade and then move on. Getting a perfect score isn’t always worth the time and stress. And often, the work you do later will help you better understand the topic you previously found so difficult!
Consider Switching Curriculums
If your dread of math is a major part of your life even though you’ve done the best you can, you may want to consider changing curriculums next year or semester. Sometimes the math program is just not the best fit.
I used to use ALEKS. It was great at first, as it doesn’t force you to drill anything you’ve already learned. I zipped through several grades with it, and I still highly recommend it for younger students.
But somewhere in high school, it started giving me a horrible time. It took forever to get through new topics, and that made me think I was just really bad at math.
When I switched my curriculum over to UC Scout, I dreaded math so much less. It turned out that ALEKS work was harder to grasp because it wasn’t set up in modules—I was just flying all over the place. And my new program also gave me the freedom to not get every single question right, unlike ALEKS had.
(The majority of the questions are multiple-choice, which is also a bonus.)
What do you think?
I sacrificed time I could have been doing my math to help you with yours. You’re welcome.
Though I still procrastinate, these tips have helped math to not be absolute torture for me, and I hope they help you too.
Do you dread math or love it? Or just like some of it? Do you have any math tips to share, or favorite curriculums or programs? Let me know in the comments!