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Overcome Your Fear of Math for Success in Class


fear-college-mathBy Dr. Tiffany DePriter
Mathematics Instructor, American Public University

Math anxiety is a common issue for students. It can become so debilitating that it prevents them from succeeding in a math course.  It can take many forms, from test anxiety to a fear of failure.

Many students put off taking a math class because they have become convinced that they just cannot learn the subject. Often this stems from a lack of success in earlier math courses. This can lead to math anxiety, but the good news is that there are strategies you can implement to reduce math anxiety.

If you find that you become nervous before taking a math test, try some relaxation and breathing techniques. Remember the power of positive thinking. Rather than telling yourself that you cannot do math, tell yourself that you can.

If you become anxious when taking a timed test, try taking some practice tests until you get used to the time restrictions. At APUS in Math 110 and Math 125 students have two and a half hours to complete a test. For those that get nervous during these timed exams it’s important to remember to take deep breaths and remember positive self-talk.

Another option to relieve stress over the timing is to get practice through supplemental software such as  MathZone to practice taking tests before the real thing.  Also, stay organized throughout the test. Find out if you can have other browsers open (like your e-book) while testing. Have paper and your calculator on hand before you begin.

[see also: Find Good Math Videos for Online Courses]

Perhaps the best strategy for overcoming math anxiety is recognizing that math takes time and practice to learn. You are not born a “math person.” Realizing that math takes time to learn and that you can succeed are the first steps to overcoming a fear of mathematics.

Everyone has a different definition of success. For some it is earning an A in a course, while for others it is mastery of the content. By having a firm and true understanding of the concepts, a good grade will most likely follow.

There are some considerations when studying mathematics:

  •  Being able to “do” math comes from practice. You must spend time to work through problems and develop an understanding of the procedures. Practice solving problems by hand and also with the help of technology.
  • Many classes offer a supplemental resource, such as MyMathLab or MathZone. These are great tools that allow students to work through practice problems, take sample tests, and see step-by-step how to work through problems.
  • Practice with your calculator. Different math classes call for different calculators. For algebra, you can use a basic or scientific calculator; for calculus and other higher level math, you may want to have a graphing calculator on hand. Just like the concepts of the course, these tools take time to learn. Read through the manual that comes with your calculator, look at online videos and tutorials, and, most importantly, play around with the calculator. Once you have a feel for using the calculator, it will be a tool that you use regularly.

Participate in your math class and ask questions when you get stuck. Many students are hesitant to ask questions, but your instructor is there to help. With planning, practice, removal of anxiety, and persistence, success in math is within your reach.


About the Author:

Dr. Tiffany DePriter is an Associate Professor of Mathematics in the School of Science and Technology at American Public University. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s in distance education, and holds a Doctor of Education degree in Mathematics Education.  Dr. DePriter has been teaching mathematics online for the past five years with American Public University.  



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