10 Tips for Managing Math Anxiety

Eileen Bailey Aug 29th, 2012 (updated Jan 7th, 2014)
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Math anxiety–an intense fear of your ability to do or understand math–can impact your ability to learn math, even though it is not an intellectual problem. Students with math anxiety may worry at just the thought of having to take a math test, feeling like they are not “math-minded” and won’t understand the work or panic and forget everything they learned when it comes to taking a test. The following tips may help you learn to control your math anxiety.

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Each math class is an extension of your previous math class
Each math class is an extension of your previous math class

Understand that math skills and concepts build on what was learned before. If you are struggling with understanding math concepts, such as fractions, take time to review basic math concepts and principles. You may be missing a basic understanding of arithmetic. Find a tutor, take a remedial course or ask your math teacher for extra help.

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Make sure you are in the proper class
Make sure you are in the proper class

If you are in high school, talk with your guidance counselor about what courses are available and whether you would be better off in a different class. If you are in college, talk with your advisor to make sure you are in a class that matches your abilities. Don’t try to take a class if you barely made it through the prerequisite; instead, take time to review or be tutored until you understand the concepts.

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Ask questions
Ask questions

Being an active learner helps you learn, instead of sitting in class listening, ask questions to help you better understand concepts. Use resources such as the tutoring or resource center to make sure you understand all the concepts being taught.

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Be prepared
Be prepared

Ask your teacher or professor for a syllabus so you will be aware of what is going to be taught at the next class. Read over the material ahead of time so you have a general understanding and can better follow along during the class.

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Complete your homework
Complete your homework

Homework helps to reinforce concepts learned during class and helps you remember what was taught. Skipping homework because “you can’t do it” or “won’t understand it” isn’t going to help in the long run. Take time to complete all the practice exercises to the best of your ability. Keep track of which ones you did incorrectly and ask for help so you understand how to do it correctly.

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Schedule math class accordingly
Schedule math class accordingly

Schedule math classes during the time of day you are most alert. If you feel best early in the morning, try to find a math class during that time.  

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Measure your math abilities based on your individual progress
Measure your math abilities based on your individual progress

When we get a test handed back, we often compare our grade to that of the other students. Resist the urge to do so and instead be proud of what you have learned and your progress, for example, if you previously failed a test on fractions and this time you got a “C,” accept your progress instead of comparing your grade to other students who got an “A.”

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Find a study place and time
Find a study place and time

Finding a good study place and designating a study time will help immensely. You may find it best to go to the library for math homework instead of being distracted or allowing yourself to procrastinate while in the comfort of your home. Try to schedule the same time every day and block out about an hour to review and complete homework.

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Take notes during class
Take notes during class

This helps you be an active listener rather than a passive one. As you review the notes, write down any questions you may have so you can ask your teacher or professor the next class. Keep all your notes until the end of the semester as you will need to review them for your midterm and final. If this class has an advanced class you, keep the notebook so you can review the basics before beginning the advanced class.

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Be aware of negative self-talk
Be aware of negative self-talk

The more you tell yourself, “I am not good at math” or “I just can’t do math,” the more you will believe it. Keep your thoughts more positive, such as, “I can do this” or “If I really focus, I can get an ‘A’ in this class,” or “With some help or tutoring, this class isn’t going to be a problem for me.”