Why is maths so difficult?

Dictionary.com defines the word difficult as:

“…not easily or readily done; requiring much labor, skill, or planning to be performed successfully.”

In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll that asked students to name the school subject that they considered to be the most difficult. Not surprisingly, mathematics came out on top of the difficulty chart. So what is it about maths that makes it difficult? Have you ever wondered? I am knocked out by the number of students that come into us every day saying they simply can’t do maths. Two weeks with us and they simply can’t get enough of it. Why? 

This definition really identifies the problem when it comes to maths, specifically the statement that a difficult taskis one that is not “readily” done. The thing that makes maths difficult for many students is that it takes patience and persistence. For many students, maths is not something that comes intuitively or automatically – it takes a huge amount of effort. It is a subject that sometimes requires students to devote lots and lots of time and energy.

This means, for many, the problem has little to do with brainpower; it is mostly a matter of staying power. And since students don’t make their own timelines when it comes to “getting it,” they can run out of time as the teacher moves on to the next topic.

According to brain science research, logical left-brain thinkers tend to understand things in sequential bits, while artistic,intuitive right brain thinkersare 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. To the right brain dominant student, that time-lapse can make them feel confused and behind.

Maths knowledge is cumulative, which means it works much like a stack of building blocks. You have to gain understanding in one area before you can effectively go on to “build upon” another area. Our first mathematical building blocks are established in the first years of school when we learn rules for addition and multiplication, and those first concepts comprise our foundation.

The next building blocks are 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 really 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

  1. They think a C is good enough.
  2. Parents don’t realize that moving on without a full understanding poses a big problem for high school and college.
  3. Teachers don’t have time and energy enough to ensure that every single student understands every single concept.

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

The lesson here? Any student who receives a C in a math class should review heavily to make sure to pick up concepts they’ll need later. In fact, it is smart to get additional support to help you review any time you find that you’ve struggled in a math class!

Making Maths Less Difficult 

In summary:

  • Maths seems difficult because it takes time and energy.
  • Many people are simply not given sufficient time to “get” math lessons, and they fall behind as the teacher moves on.
  • Students are therefore moving on to study more complex concepts with a shaky foundation.
  • Meaning that 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!

No matter where you are in yourmaths studiesyou can excel if you backtrack far enough to reinforce your foundation. You must fill in the holes with a solid understanding of the basic concepts.

  • If you’re in in KS3 right now, do not attempt to move on until you understand pre-algebra concepts fully.
  • If you’re in KS4 and struggling with math, make sure you understand every single concept and activity that is covered in middle grades.
  • If you’re in college, backtrack all the way to basic math and work forward. This won’t take as long as it sounds. You can work forward through years of math 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!

Kids Full Educational Services, identifies the missing areas or the modules with shaky foundations and then helps support advanced learning through carefully bespoke programmes to ensure total understanding.