Overcoming Maths Anxiety

Many of our students come to us due to maths anxiety, ranging from mild to paralysing. Our manager, Lucy, had this very same problem when she was at school so we asked her to write about her experience and how she overcame it…

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Since working for Worcester Tutors, I have come to realise that the fear of maths I experienced as a child, is actually extremely common. One of the most common reasons students come to us for maths tuition, is because of a lack of confidence, or even blind panic, at the thought of trying to make sense of all those numbers floating around on the page. A study conducted at Stanford University confirms that maths anxiety is directly linked to poorer performance in sufferers than their less anxious peers[¹]. With growing concern over school children’s maths performance in the UK, it is clearly an issue that needs addressing.

So the main question is how teachers can and parents help students to overcome their maths anxiety? Maths anxiety often stems from poor teaching, or a bad experience, which has knocked the child’s confidence. Improving confidence and understanding is key. If maths is not taught effectively, then students will often rely on learning the rules and procedures rather than actually understanding the maths itself. Whilst this can give the impression that the student is capable of working on maths tasks, they will have no way of working through the problem logically to get to the correct answer should they ever forget the “rules”.

Unfortunately, with large classroom sizes in many schools, teachers just don’t have the time to help individual students with every maths problem, which can lead to some children, usually the ones with maths anxiety, to fall behind. This is where individual tuition, even for a one-off session, can be hugely beneficial. In a one-to-one situation, the tutor can identify specific areas to work on and spend the time finding a learning style to suit that particular student. Focusing on fun aspects of maths, such as playing games, making posters, or constructing 3D shapes, can really help reduce maths anxiety. This enables the student to build confidence to work through maths problems in a more formal manner later on. Parents can help their children outside the classroom by incorporating maths problems into everyday life; for example what fraction of the pizza did they eat? In the supermarket, who can get the closest to guessing how much everything in the trolley will cost? Applying maths to real life situations can help show the child why maths is important as well as giving them plenty of opportunity to use maths outside the classroom environment.

 Although, as a child, I did not have anyone to tutor me individually, when I entered my GCSE years, I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher who took the time to explain things clearly and with lots of enthusiasm. I clearly remember having a ‘light bulb’ moment when everything suddenly started to make sense and I actually started to enjoy maths – something I had always previously thought impossible. I believe that with the right support, any child can overcome maths anxiety and even if they never particularly enjoy the subject, they can still gain a great sense of achievement when they successfully solve a maths problem. It is simply a matter of finding a learning method which works for them.

[1] Christina B. Young et al. (2012). The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math Anxiety. Psychological Science OnlineFirst. 1 (1), 1-10.