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Why Is Math Difficult For Students?

Maths can be a difficult subject for students to master. Some students may find it hard to understand the concepts, while others may struggle with the maths skills required to solve equations and problems. This blog post will explore why maths can be difficult for students and provide helpful tips on improving their mathematics skills.

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Math And Brain Types

But there is also an element of brain style in the big picture. Of course, there will always be opposing views on any topic, and the process of human learning is subject to the ongoing debate, just like any other topic. But many theorists believe that people are wired with different maths comprehension skills.

According to some brain science scholars, logical, left-brain thinkers understand things in sequential bits, while artistic, intuitive, right-brainers are more global. They take in a lot of information at one time and let it "sink in." So left-brain dominant students may grasp concepts quickly while right-brain dominant students don't. But, to the right brain dominant student, that time-lapse can make them feel confused and behind.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several reasons why a child may be having problems with maths at school, from low motivation caused by maths anxiety to a poor understanding of how to apply and perform mathematical operations.

Some students dislike maths because they think it's not very interesting. They don't get excited about numbers and formulas the way they get excited about history, science, languages, or other subjects that are easier to connect to personally. Instead, they see maths as abstract and irrelevant figures that are difficult to understand.

Demonstrate slow or inaccurate recall of basic arithmetic facts; answer problems impulsively, without inhibition; have difficulty representing mathematical concepts mentally; have poorly developed number sense.

There are, of course, actual maths disabilities, the most prominent being dyscalculia. It essentially means that the parts of your brain that do maths for you do not function properly, resulting in you not comprehending maths problems. Often called maths dyslexia, it supposedly affects 6-7% of the population.

The deadlines that timed tests to impose on students make them feel anxious. It leads them to forget concepts they have no problem remembering at home. Moreover, since these tests can hurt grades, the student's fear of failure is confirmed.

Math As A Cumulative Discipline

Maths know-how is cumulative, which means it works much like a stack of building blocks. You have to understand one area before you can effectively go on to "build upon" another area. Our first mathematical building blocks are established in primary school when we learn rules for addition and multiplication, and those first concepts comprise our foundation.

The next building blocks come in middle school, when students first learn about formulas and operations. This information has to sink in and become "firm" before students can move on to enlarge this framework of knowledge.

The big problem starts to appear sometime between middle school and high school because students very often move on to a new grade or new subject before they're ready. Students who earn a "C" in middle school have absorbed and understood about half of what they should, but they move on anyway. They move on or are moved on because

They think a C is good enough.

Parents don't realise that moving on without a full understanding poses a big problem for high school and college.

Teachers don't have enough time and energy to ensure that every student understands every concept.

So students move to the next level with a shaky foundation. The outcome of any shaky foundation is that there will be a serious limitation in building and real potential for complete failure at some point.

The lesson here? Any student who receives a C in a maths class should review heavily to make sure to pick up concepts they'll need later. It is smart to hire a tutor to help you review any time you find that you've struggled in a maths class!

Making Math Less Difficult

We have established a few things when it comes to maths and difficulty:

Maths seems difficult because it takes time and energy.

Many people don't experience sufficient time to "get" maths lessons, and they fall behind as the teacher moves on.

Many move on to study more complex concepts with a shaky foundation.

We often end up with a weak structure that is doomed to collapse at some point.

Although this may sound like bad news, it is really good news. The fix is pretty easy if we're patient enough!

You can excel in your maths studies if you backtrack far enough to reinforce your foundation. It would be best to fill in the holes with a deep understanding of the basic concepts you encountered in middle school maths.

If you're in middle school right now, do not attempt to move on until you understand pre-algebra concepts fully. Instead, get a tutor if necessary.

If you're struggling with maths in high school, download a middle school maths syllabus or hire a tutor. Make sure you understand every concept and activity covered in middle grades.

If you're in college, backtrack to basic maths and work forward. It won't take as long as it sounds. You can work forward through years of maths in a week or two.

No matter where you start and where you struggle, you must make sure you acknowledge any weak spots in your foundation and fill the holes with practice and understanding!

Common Causes Of Trouble With Maths

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that causes students to struggle with formulas, shapes, and number-related concepts. It makes it difficult for them to understand and process maths problems. As a result, these students usually fall far behind their peers in maths and have trouble with number-related problems that don't improve with ongoing practice.

Maths Anxiety

Students with maths anxiety don't simply dislike maths—for them; maths causes debilitating feelings of fear and failure that hurt their ability to perform. In addition, the pressure and lack of confidence these students feel when faced with maths cause their brains to freeze and forget even the things they do know.

Poor Foundation

Maths challenges aren't always a result of a learning difficulty. Many students who struggle with maths don't have the proper foundation for success. These students may have fallen behind in a unit or moved on to advanced material before they were ready, leading to falling grades.

Why Do So Many Students Struggle With Math

It's Difficult To Relate To

Maths is a very abstract subject. For students, learning usually happens best when they can relate it to real life. Unfortunately, as maths becomes more advanced and challenging, that can be easy. As a result, many students need to work harder and practice longer to understand more abstract maths concepts.

There's Only Right And Wrong

Unlike many other subjects, there is no room for error in maths. Your child either understands what they are doing or not. Because of this, maths can quickly become a frustrating and stressful experience for students.

It Builds On Itself

Maths is a cumulative subject—everything builds on what came before. Therefore, your child needs to know the basics before moving on to new topics. If your child starts to fall behind in one area, it can be difficult to make sense of advanced concepts they learn without that foundational knowledge.

Students Expect Maths To Be Difficult

It is a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: students expect it to be difficult, so it is. When students expect maths to be difficult, they are quicker to give up when they don't understand something. A negative mindset like this can quickly turn into a cycle of low confidence, less motivation, and poor performance.

Putting Memorisation Ahead Of Understanding

For many students, maths is a subject that memorises concepts and formulas without understanding them. It may work for a while, but as students progress and encounter more difficult problems, many find that they don't know how to solve them because they don't have the problem-solving skills to tackle new problems.

It Has A Reputation Of Being "Boring"

Maths has a reputation of being an unpopular mix of difficult and boring. As a result, many students aren't excited to learn about maths. And when students aren't excited, they tend to do the bare minimum before moving on to something they'd rather be doing, which isn't going to help set them up for success in maths class.

It Requires A Lot Of Practice

Maths isn't something students automatically "get"—it takes time and practice to understand maths. Since many students don't enjoy maths, sitting down and practising can be a struggle. Without that practice, students can have difficulty keeping up with what they're learning because they still don't handle the basics.

Students Move On Before They're Ready

In many classes, a "C" means your child has a good understanding of the material. And that's usually enough for them to move on to the next unit or grade level. In maths, a "C" means that your child is missing fundamental building blocks for success in the future (remember: maths is cumulative!). Because maths builds on itself, that "C" means that the next unit or class is going to be even harder until your child has a grasp on previous topics.

Attention Difficulties

Maths often involves multi-step problems, and students need to perform several consecutive steps to find a solution. In addition, it requires staying focused on the task at hand. When complex maths procedures are being taught, students often lose focus and become distracted during the lesson. As a result, they may miss important steps in the problem-solving process and later struggle with maths to complete problems independently. Being able to revisit prior concepts that were previously unclear is one of the main benefits of Tutor Doctor's individualised approach towards learning.

Math Is Built On Sequential Learning. 

Students who don't fully understand a previous lesson's concept will struggle when newer concepts are introduced. For example, to reduce fractions, students need to know division first; to do algebra, students need to be comfortable with multi-step arithmetic, and so on. Unfortunately, many students struggling with maths feel uncomfortable or embarrassed asking questions when their teacher has already moved on to the next lesson. Math concepts are like building blocks, and the foundation always needs to be laid before moving forward. If the foundation isn't there, the student will struggle in class and may not fully realise why they are struggling with math when their peers are progressing. 

Concepts Are Learned But Not Understood.

Often, students know how to operate repetition but don't understand its meaning. For example, times-table memorisation has always been a staple of the elementary school curriculum. However, a student may only know that "4 x 4 = 16" because they memorised it and not because they fully understand the concept of multiplication. For this reason, many students benefit from visual representations, such as using small objects (like marbles or paperclips) when learning multiplication and division. The fact is, all students learn differently, and it can be hard to encompass every student's unique learning style in a classroom. That's where individualised tutoring can help those who struggle with maths!

Lack Of Practice Or Patience

Many students don't spend enough time practising maths concepts. Other students may not realise they need more time reviewing certain areas. Sometimes students will feel like they understand a concept, but when attempting to solve a problem themselves, they don't know how to begin (or end up struggling through the process). Students will often feel confident after watching their teacher explain the lesson in class, only to find that doing it can be a lot more challenging. There's, unfortunately, no quick and easy solution to learn maths – it requires lots of practice and patience! As tutors, we try to specifically identify the areas in which students need improvement and focus on closing these "gaps" in learning.

"When Am I Ever Going To Use This?"

This classic line is a favourite of every maths teacher, but more importantly, it signifies many students' opinions that they will never use these skills outside of a classroom. In other words, students often have trouble connecting maths to reality and seeing how it is applied in daily life. For instance, a student that struggles with fractions may have trouble understanding how to convert the fraction ½ to the decimal 0.50. However, the same student has no problem understanding that "half a dollar" equals 50 cents. It is a great example of the disconnect students sometimes experience when struggling with maths.

Studies show that maths is one of the few disciplines accessible to all students, no matter their natural abilities. Being good at maths is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. While natural talents and abilities will give some students an edge, maths is just about practice. That means that everyone can do well at maths, despite what they might believe. Having a 'can-do attitude is the most important factor in maths success.

Concentration And Attention Difficulties

When your child is trying to solve a maths problem, they need to concentrate and carefully follow each step. If they lose concentration or are distracted at any point in this process, they're much more likely to make a mistake and will have to start over until they get the right answer. 

Over time, making the same mistakes can lower your child's confidence and interest when solving maths problems, especially if they feel like they're falling behind their classmates. 

Lack Of Understanding

Many maths lessons start with a teacher presenting a maths problem to the class and walking them through a step-by-step method to help them solve it.

After watching the teacher solve a problem using a specific method, your child might feel confident enough to try it out independently. 

But when they're presented with a more challenging problem, they might realise they didn't fully understand the method taught in class. It can lower your child's confidence. They may even avoid letting their teacher know because they feel embarrassed they didn't understand the method. 

School absences like vacations and sick days are other common reasons your child may have difficulty understanding a particular maths concept. If they don't have the opportunity to catch up on their missed learning, this can cause them to feel left behind and find maths harder to learn than their classmates.

Learning Difficulties & Disabilities

While teachers do a great job of bringing out the best in their students, the classroom isn't always the easiest learning environment for every child. 

Also known as neurodivergent, children with dyslexia can find reading maths questions or solving word problems challenging. Other neurodivergent challenges like autism or ADD/ADHD spectrums can make it hard for your child to focus and comfortably participate in classroom maths activities. 

If you suspect your child is experiencing a learning difficulty and believe it's affecting their performance in maths, contact your child's teacher or school. Many schools offer special learning programs that will identify your child's difficulty and tailor a learning program designed to help them reach their full potential.

Lack Of Patience

Because maths involves using plenty of multi-step processes to solve problems, being able to master it takes a lot more practice than other subjects.

Repeating a process can quickly bore some children, making them impatient with maths. So while learning to be patient is an important step in your child's development, they should also be encouraged to practice maths with fun and engaging activities.

Not Enough Opportunity

From art shows and science fairs to soccer and drama clubs, children have plenty of opportunities to practice their favourite sport or hobby outside the classroom. But what about maths?

More often than not, children aren't aware of practising basic math outside of school and homework. It can cause them to lose interest and make it harder to feel motivated with maths.

But it doesn't always have to be that way! Engaging and educational math resources like Prodigy change that by giving your child plenty of fun opportunities to practice their math skills outside of school.

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Conclusion

In short, maths can be difficult for students because it's a subject that asks them to think in new and different ways. It can be hard to shift from relying on intuition or common sense when solving problems. However, with practice and a willingness to persevere, maths can become easier and more enjoyable. We hope this blog has given you some ideas about how to help your child tackle the challenges of mathematics.

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