I am not good at Math – HELP!

Dr. Ali Khwaja throws a lifebuoy to those who are sinking in the whirlpool of numbers

I am not good at Math - Help!Naveen was good in all subjects till he reached high school. Then he realized that he is struggling with his Maths. It was not as though he was not interested in Maths, he always was. In fact he thought languages and social studies were boring. But the irony was that he could still score well enough in those subjects, but his marks in Maths kept steadily going down. Sadder was the fact that every time he would give an exam, he would come back happily thinking that he was done well – until the results came. He would have made “silly mistakes” in his Maths paper, and the marks would be far below his expectations.

Where did I do wrong?
I am not good at Math - Help!
Credit: Danny | cc-by-2.0 | flickr.com

Worse still was the fact that Naveen’s current Maths teacher was not sympathetic to his plight. The teacher was convinced that Naveen was not putting in enough effort, and had become lazy. He would not just scold but ridicule the poor boy for making such silly mistakes. At times he would hold up Naveen’s paper for all to see, and the entire class would laugh at how he had made gross errors. This made Naveen even more nervous, and over a period of time he started hating Maths.

Naveen is now in his tenth, and is dreading only his Maths paper in the final exams. He is very confident of doing well in all other subjects, even though some of them are boring, and some have vast portions to cover. He is getting sleepless nights thinking of what would happen if he actually fails in Maths – for that would mean that he would fail in the entire Board exam! With all good intentions, his parents are goading and threatening him with dire consequences, making him feel even more humiliated and angry.

There are many students like Naveen, at various stages of fear of Maths, and they are doomed with the knowledge that there is no escape from it. But there are definitely ways and means of overcoming such a situation. One needs to start with analyzing the exact reason of the fear of Maths. Based on the cause, one can deal with the situation:
  • A student falls behind due to illness, absence, distraction, and finds that the class has moved ahead. Unlike theoretical subjects, if one loses continuity in Maths, one cannot follow subsequent classes. If this happens, the student should be given individual coaching (at his own pace) immediately, till he catches up with the class.
  • A child may have low IQ (intelligence quotient), which determines the ability of his mind to take in data, process and store it, and reproduce it on demand. Such children are “slow learners” and they should be put in a system where the standard is not very high, or where the teachers give personal attention and go at a slower pace.
  • I hate math!
    I am not good at Math - Help!
    Credit: Jimmie | cc-by-2.0 | flickr.com
  • Mathe-logical intelligence is only one among the eight human intelligences identified by the renowned Howard Gardner. Not all of us posses strong mathe-logical ability. Such students need to be coached very sensitively and slowly, with the assurance that after tenth standard, they can drop Maths and move on to other subjects they may be far better in.
  • A few students suffer from a learning disability called “dyscalculia.” They may have average or even above average intelligence, but this disability prevents them from doing calculations, while they do very well in theory subjects. It is a disorder which can be dealt with in the “resource room” of schools, or by external special educators, depending on the intensity of the disability.
  • Some students may actually be good in Maths, but they inevitably land up making those silly mistakes that bring down their marks. Such children need more inputs in terms of improved study techniques and concentration, and not just rigorous private tuition where they are made to solve problems again and again.
  • If a student is not performing because he is put off with the teacher, the problem needs to be dealt with at the psychological level. Make him talk out all his frustrations about the teacher and her behavior towards him, help him to resolve his feeling of hurt, humiliation or inadequacy that may have set in – and then motivate him to prove to himself and to the teacher that he is competent.
  • It is a fact that more girls seem to fear Maths than boys. This is due to the fact that girls are more often right-brained, i.e. they think more in emotional, creative and interpersonal ways than in mathematical, logical or sequential style. However, this need not prevent any girl from completing her basic education including Maths, and then opting for further studies and careers in fields that match her way of thinking.
Once we UNDERSTAND: Math is FUN like
I am not good at Math - Help!
Credit: Dylan Ng | cc-by-2.0 | flickr.com

Once we understand that the Maths phobia can be dealt with, it would be ideal for the parent and teacher to work as a team and focus on what type of help the child requires. In specific cases, the child can be referred to a special educator who implements study techniques and methodology suitable to the individual child.

I never did very well in math - I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn't meant my answers literally. ~ Calvin Trillin (American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist and novelist)
I am not good at Math - Help!
Credit: Mulan | cc-by-sa-2.0 | flickr.com

The parents need to keep on motivating the child to study Maths at least till the tenth standard, because then his basic foundation is strong, and he can face any situation in life. After tenth, he can choose various options that do not include Maths. In extreme cases, the child can even be switched over to appearing for the NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) tenth standard exam, where there is a wide variety of alternate subjects that the student can choose and appear for.


The role of the teacher and parent is very important whenever a child shows Maths phobia. Many a time silent support, words of encouragement, acceptance and understanding, play an important role in helping the child not only overcome this obstacle, but also in developing the self-esteem to tackle his future with enthusiasm and confidence.

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