Mathematics is a problem for many people, and the mere thought of algebra or trigonometry is enough to cause fear or nervousness in some of them. This can cause problems not just at school or university, but throughout your life.
But fear not – help is at hand. “You just have to break it down into a bite-sized chunk and approach it with respect,” says German mathematics professor Herold Dehling. Dehling suggests regular practice, based on an analytical approach, is the key.
Parents can do a lot to help their children, according to Patrick Ditchen, a secondary school maths teacher from the German state of Bavaria who has written a book on the subject. “Instead of getting angry and complaining about the child because of their bad maths grades,” he says, “parents should show solidarity and consider with them how to improve in the future.”
“It’s helpful to get in a positive mood and get to grips with the maths tasks,” advises Hanna Hardeland, a learning coach and career counsellor. “It doesn’t get you any further to just say ‘I don’t understand that’,” she says.
A strategy could be to spend 20 minutes on a difficult task and try to solve it. “If it doesn’t work, then take a break and then write down the questions you have,” says Hardeland. She suggests that you then ask your teacher or lecturer specific questions.
“Sometimes putting into words what you don’t understand really helps.”
The internet is teeming with online offers to help with problems in maths. They can be used, for example, if you are still unable to understand a certain mathematical issue after an intensive discussion with the teacher or lecturer. “It is often easier to understand when someone else explains it in a different way,” says Dehling.
Ditchen advises students to take five more minutes after they’ve done their homework to prepare for the next day’s lessons. “They’ll understand better what the teacher is talking about and where he is going with it,” he says. Students will also feel more confident about speaking up and asking questions in class if they have not understood something.
If you don’t make any progress, you can also hire a tutor or a learning coach. “In principle, mathematics is no more difficult to learn than a language,” Dehling emphasises. Everything is systematically built up, step by step.
Fear of mathematics is also no reason for prospective secondary school graduates to rule out certain courses of further study from the outset. “Anyone who wants to become an engineer or software developer, for example, cannot avoid mathematics at university,” says Dehling.
He recommends that future students should attend the preparatory courses in mathematics offered at many universities and thus gain an initial overview.