Rock Valley College
Rockford, Illinois

Math Anxiety

Throughout grade school and maybe even in high school, many students felt there was no reason to take math.

These students hated math and felt they were never going to use it. There is still the tendency to think that only those who go into technical fields need math. Math teaches us to think. Math helps us to organize or thoughts, analyze information, and better understand the world around us.

There are myths about math that we have accepted as true and these tend to hold us back when it comes to learning math.

Some popular myths are:

  1. Females aren't any good at math
  2. The majority can't do well in math because only a few people really have mathematical minds. (We are happy to get a "C" in math whereas we won't accept a "C" in English or any other subject that we like. We expect to do poorly in math).

Some hints for studying math:

  1. Read your text first, before you try any problems.
  2. Write down the theorems and definitions, read them out loud, and then rewrite them into your own words. 
  3. Do a lot of problems and practice tests. 
  4. Don't cram for tests. Frequent practice and review is the key to learning math. If you cram, you will be unsure of yourself. Formulas will become confused and problems will look differently. 
  5. Don't keep looking in the back of your debt at the answers
    a. You may have the right answer but may not have done the problem correctly.
    b. If you have the wrong answer, it could affect your confidence and concentration.
  6. When you aren't sure of a problem, ask for help, but never erase your work. Even if the problem is wrong, find to where you were wrong and where you were right. You can learn just as much from your mistakes as from what you've done correctly.
  7. Set aside a certain time everyday to study math. 
  8. Get extra help when you need it. Come to the PLC for tutoring; ask your teacher or a classmate for help. Remember, you need to understand math; that does not mean memorizing it. 
  9. Begin at the right place. If you feel that you need a review, be sure to start with a math class that begins at your level.

A common story instructors hear from math students is that the students can do the work or homework and in class but when it comes down to the test, the students freeze.

The number one problem of math test anxiety is negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is when you talk yourself deeper into anxiety. You think "what if" or "I can't". You worry about finishing the test on time. You tend to concentrate on how you are feeling, on how the anxiety is affecting you instead of on the test itself.

Some hints to counteract math test anxiety:

  1. Confront your anxiety by admitting that you are worried about this test. Anxiety and fear react in the body in the same way, and admitting that you re anxious relieves some of the anxiety.
  2. Use positive self-talk. Keep telling yourself that you can do this math, that you know this stuff, and that you are prepared. 
  3. Control your physical self. Take a brisk walk around the classroom buildings using positive self-talk while walking. Keep your heart rate and respiration steady by doing slow, five count deep breathing exercises. Loosen tight muscles on your neck by doing shoulder rolls forward and backward. Relax legs and arms by shake outs before you walk into the classroom. 
  4. Focus your attention away from yourself and towards the problem. 
  5. When taking practice tests or working on homework, keep a diary of the kinds of thoughts you are having while working out the problems. Relate these concerns to your tutor or teacher.

While the above suggestions will be helpful for the physical and emotional self, the following suggestions may be beneficial for the academic self.

Some hints to better test taking:

  1. Write down formulas and other memorized information directly onto the test. This eliminates the risk of forgetting or altering the information incorrectly as you work the problems.
  2. Preview the test. Find a problem you are comfortable with and start there. It is not necessary to work in numerical order. Try instead to choose an order that helps you stay positive. 
  3. Start with the easier problems. Also keep in mind the total point of the test and plan a strategy to get the most amount of points possible in the shortest amount of time. 
  4. Pass over difficult problems. Give yourself a certain time limit to solve it; if more time is needed, circle the number and come back to it later. Use the strategy you've planned and remain positive. If you find yourself becoming anxious, try some relaxation techniques to calm down physically and then focus back on the test. 
  5. Review the problems you've skipped. Maybe other problems you have solved can give you a better insight to the work needed for this problem. 
  6. Show some work for each problem, even if it's a guess. Partial credit is still good. 
  7. Allow for some time to look back over your work. Make sure you have read the directions correctly and look for careless errors. 
  8. Use all of the test time. Anxiety can induce a need to escape. Try to control the anxiety before this feeling takes over. Leaving a test early may mean a loss of points on your test as well as other negative feedback. Remember, always try to remain positive.

Remember, the key to conquering math anxiety is practice, practice, practice. The more confident you become in your ability, the better you will do.