How to Overcome Mental Roadblocks in Math Class

“I’m just not good at math.”

“Math is too hard.”

“Why do I need to learn this?”

Frustration from mental roadblock in math class

At MATH 1-2-3®, we have heard those – and so many more – over and over during the decades we’ve spent tutoring math students throughout all areas of New York and Connecticut, from New York City to Fairfield County, from Brooklyn to Long Island. We know that for many students, math, whether it is elementary school math, IB Mathematics, Pre-algebra, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-calculus, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Probability & Statistics, or another math course, can be one of the more challenging – and even frustrating and disheartening – subjects in school. Since, year after year and course after course, math consistently builds upon previously taught information, it’s not uncommon for even strong students to fall behind or struggle, on occasion.  At MATH 1-2-3®, we know how to help.

For students having trouble with math, we recommend trying to identify the root cause, or causes, or the challenges students have with math. The right, experienced tutors can speak with parents and/or meet with math students and develop a comprehensive, realistic, executable tutoring plan to improve the students’ experience with math and to improve the students’ quizzes, exams and standardized tests, admissions tests and placement test scores. At MATH 1-2-3®, our tutors know how to assess students’ strengths, weaknesses, potential mental blocks, personal challenges and emotional reactions to math and new math concepts and have the experience to tailor a tutoring plan to meet the needs of students of all levels and abilities.

Yes, they can

At MATH 1-2-3®, we firmly believe that success in math is a possibility for all students, with the right approach, the right support and hard work. The right tutor is often a critical part of the equation (forgive the pun?).  It will take effort, but we have the experience and credentials to help students of all levels and abilities. We empower our tutoring students and work closely with them and their families to develop the right program to support their efforts, guide their studies and provide for their success. 

Math Anxiety is real, but can be overcome

Since 1995, we have been tutoring students in math throughout Connecticut and New York and we have come to understand, deeply, that math students often internalize their math challenges and assume something must be “wrong” with them because of their difficulties in math class. Parents often don’t know how react to these emotions and frustrations. The families we work with report that there are sometimes arguments over math homework, math test preparation, math class grades, and standardized test scores. They tell us that they are tempted to try to help their struggling students feel better by sharing their own negative experiences with math classes. We have found that while parents’ instincts to validate their children’s feelings about math are noble, it is often better for parents, teachers, and math tutors to work to demystify math, ease students’ anxiety and improve their confidence by building their skills. At MATH 1-2-3®, we partner with parents and their children to address concerns, build skills, and improve math performance.  Our experience has shown us that the right plan, with the right tutor, sets math students on a path to improvement.

Parents and students often tell us that math anxiety appears to be one of the key reasons for students’ challenges in math class and on tests, quizzes, exams and standardized, admissions and placement tests. This anxiety is often the result of the time pressures associated with test-taking, whether that is for in-class exams, standardized tests, placement tests, admissions tests, or other evaluations. Many students need to, want to, and feel more comfortable, approaching math problems at their own pace. This is perfectly acceptable and desirable during the learning, and tutoring process, but for most students, major exams and standardized tests are timed. That time pressure naturally tends to increase anxiety for all students. Some students thrive on the stress and it improves their performance, but for other students, the pressure of timed performance peaks math anxiety and negatively impacts performance.

To address the challenges inherent in timed assignments, tests or exams, the highly credentialed and experienced math tutors at MATH 1-2-3® first make sure that their tutoring students are comfortable with a concept and then recommend that the students do some timed work, under simulated test conditions, to best prepare for test days. This strategy works well for almost all students since all students face timed tests, whether they are classroom tests, Regents exams, AP exams, admissions exams, placement exams, PSATs, SATs, ISSEs, GREs, GMATs or GEDs. We have found that this approach is the best way to help students of all levels and abilities improve their test-taking confidence and time-budgeting skills, which, in turn, reduces anxiety and tends to improve performance.

The cumulative nature of math presents challenges.

One of the challenges inherent in math is that math courses are premised on sequential learning. New math topics being taught constantly rely on a strong understanding of previous coursework and assumes a working understanding of concepts and skills that were taught in earlier math classes. At each new level of math, students are expected to have mastered concepts taught in their previous classes. For example, students who don’t understand place value will face difficulties when they are asked to solve multi-digit problems. To reduce fractions, students need to know division facts. To be successful at Algebra, students need to be comfortable with multi-step arithmetic. The examples are endless.

By necessity, math teachers, who must manage the needs of a class full of students and the dictates of the curriculum, have to move forward through the course material at a certain pace. Unfortunately, this often means that students who didn’t fully learn, and grow to understand, a previous section do not have the opportunity to return to that work. Students who do not fully understand what is being taught often feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed, to ask questions when the class has already moved on to the next topic. This results in learning gaps, which increase frustration and anxiety and often affect performance on homework, quizzes, exams and standardized tests. Without the required pre-requisites, or foundational building blocks, students struggle in class, on homework, on class exams and on standardized tests.

At MATH 1-2-3®, we know that a working knowledge of all prior math coursework is a lot to expect of math students, but it is a reality we cannot change. The good, and comforting, news is that a better understanding of math and better grades are achievable with the right approach, and we know, based on decades of experience, what that approach is. With specific, focused programs tailed to students’ needs, strengths, preferences and personalities, we have seen great success helping students to perform better in math class, on math exams and on standardized tests that contain math sections. One-on-one tutoring, whether on-line, or in-person, is a very effective approach because a highly qualified, experienced math tutor can work to revisit, re-teach, and reinforce previous skills and sections that students may need help with.

Practice, practice, practice, perfect

Many students simply don’t realize how much time they will need to invest practicing math skills and concepts to become comfortable with them, master how to use them and understand the interplay between them and other skills they have learned in earlier courses. Throughout the over two decades we have been tutoring students in math, we have seen countless students who feel that they understand a concept and that they can follow along as the lesson is taught in school or reviewed during a study session. Unfortunately, when they have to complete a homework assignment, take a quiz, answer a question in class or take an exam, they often find that when they are on their own, they don’t know how to begin, or end up struggling to finish problems.   

We wish there were a quick and easy way for students to learn math, but the reality is that math takes practice, practice and more practice. To be done alone and productively, that practice requires that the students already understand the work well enough to work through the problems on their own. Without that, students may reinforce mistakes, failing to realize that they are not working through the problems correctly, which defeats the whole purpose of practicing. It is often the case that the students do not understand the in-class lessons well enough to replicate the work on their own. Our experience has shown us that students can nod along with a lesson, taking notes and feeling confident, only to find that doing the problems independently is challenging and frustrating.  Working with the right tutor, someone experienced in pinpointing the areas in which students need reinforcement, improvement or additional practice, students close their gaps in knowledge. In a productive tutoring relationship, students have a resource they can bring practice problems to, get practice problems from and work through practice problems with.

No matter the challenge, at MATH 1-2-3®, we are here to meet it and to help students of all levels and abilities to reach their full math potential. Call 1-888-MATH-123 and speak to someone today to get started.