Why you still struggle with maths

If you're ever wondered why you struggle with maths despite exposure to numbers on a daily basis, you're not alone. A study by Bhutoria, et.al. (2018) found 4 in 10 adults across countries such as the US, England, Canada and Spain can't answer basic financial literacy questions. Other countries, such as Austria, Slovakia and Lithuania have the most success, but still around quarter of adults get the answer the wrongs.

In case you're wondering, the study contained questions such as this:

“Suppose, upon your trip to the grocery store you purchase four types of tea packs: Chamomile Tea (US$4.60), Green Tea (US$4.15), Black Tea (US$3.35) and Lemon Tea (US$1.80). If you paid for all these items with a US$20 bill, how much change would you get?”

Did you get the answer?

If you did, great, you're one of the finance maths literate among us. If you didn't, well it could be one or more of these internal and environmental reasons.

Your Parents

A lot of maths is about confidence in the face of mathematics problems. It's already known that students with more supportive parents are mostly likely to succeed in mathematics. If yours avoided or weren't around to help with your mathematics homework when needed it's highly likely you could be more anxious tackling maths problems and will have a much harder time solving them in the long run. Numerous studies have documented the importance of parent's working with teachers to improve student academic performance in mathematics.

Your Teachers

Teaching is one of the most important factors affecting confidence regarding mathematics. Maths is supposed to be an engaging and creative, but your teacher may have appeared bored or uninterested in the topic. The content being taught may be too abstract and difficult to visualize. You might have been overloaded with questions, leading to fatigue. Furthermore, you may simply have not liked your maths teacher for other reasons, which may affect your attitude or thus performance in mathematics. These days, researchers and policy makers have caught on to the situation and have started making headway with techniques to improve mathematics teaching, though interestingly the effects don't work that well on older students.

Your Friends

Another double-edged sword are your classroom peers. If you found yourself comparing grades with others more fluent in formulas you may have either become motivated to work harder, or experienced a drop in confidence if you didn't like math's already. There is also a chance you were surrounded by friends who had little to no interest in learning maths and you found yourself adopted the same attitude too. On the other hand, creating study groups have been to improve motivation to work and improve mathematics skills.

Your Brain

Working memory (or short term memory) helps you store numbers in your head for processing. The higher your working memory the faster you can perform more complex mental arithmetic calculations. The lower your working memory, well you'll probably struggle doing the questions above without extra time and a calculator.

You've been avoiding maths

There is such a thing called mathematics avoidance and mathematics anxiety. You may not consciously avoid it, but if you can get away without doing mathematics problems you probably will. Maths may seem more of a chore and so you save your time and energy for ventures that are more fun. Either way, the lack of exposure to maths problems means next time you encounter them, they'll be harder than before, thus reinforcing anxiety and avoidance. Maths avoidance is surprisingly common among the population, with persistent avoidance of maths courses, calculators used at every opportunity (though now it's been seen as a plus), and restaurant goers giving someone else the bill to calculate.

In the end, these seem to be the main factors causing our ever growing struggle with numbers. Can you think of anymore? Feel free to comment below.

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