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At what age can you tell if you're good at math?

  1. Oct 20, 2011 #1
    When I was in Kindergarten I took some tests to get into my school's gifted program. I did very average on the quantitative skills portion, but I scored well in the other sections.

    Does this mean that I lack the inherent math gift? Can this gift be acquired through hard study?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2011 #2
    ..... Yes, the results of a math test given to you in grade school governs your math capabilities for eternity.
  4. Oct 20, 2011 #3


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    Meh - I don't consider such tests reliable. I did well in math and science, but sometimes poorly on tests.

    I did mediocre on the SAT. I can't stand to be in silent places, and I don't like sitting still. On the other hand, I did excellent on the GRE in math and physics.

    When I was in first grade, a mate of mine and I would write numbers during the class to see who could reach the most/highest number in a given amount of time - usually when it was raining and we could not go outside for recess. He usually did better, but in the process, we'd start to notice trends/patterns in numbers.

    Some teachers drilled us on addition/subtraction and multiplication/division/factoring, but others didn't seem to push it as much. By 4th grade, I'd do most of the math work in my head, so I didn't write out steps when mulitplying or adding a series of multidigit numbers. I received penalties for not showing work, which I explained wasn't necessary because I did it in my head. Sometimes, I'd make stupid mistakes, but the answers were mostly correct.

    I had my math workbook confiscated during music lesson. The teacher was upset because I was months ahead of the rest of the class. I enjoyed math.

    I would have loved to have had a more rigorous math education in primary school.

    I think I could have handled 2x2 and 3x3 matrices and basic linear algebra in 4th grade is someone had bothered to show me. My first experience with matrices was probably between 5th and 6th grade.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2011
  5. Oct 20, 2011 #4
    it wasn't a math test; it was the stanford binet test and another similar one. I bet if you had given those tests to any decent math or physics major when they were in kindergarten, they would have dominated the quantitative portion.
  6. Oct 20, 2011 #5


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    People develop at different speeds. You cannot really judge the final capacity of the adult human brain before that capacity is reached--in adulthood.

    For the record: I did very poorly in grade school, mediocrely in the middle classes, and then completely owned in grades 11-13 and university. And so did my sister. I very much doubt that we are great exceptions.

    And about the "inherent gift for math": Whether or not such a thing exists is still a matter of debate amongst experts (in psychology). A fact, however, is that most people never even remotely reach their potential because they think that they are lacking some inherent "gift". What you need to succeed is work, not a gift.
  7. Oct 20, 2011 #6
    such a strong assumption, dude. take it easy
  8. Oct 20, 2011 #7
    I'm completely with you on this. I just don't believe people can be born with "gifts". We develop these things. Musicians look at Mozart and say, "wow that guy was good. Must have been born with it." yet forget that as a little boy his dad would sit him and and make him practice and practice and practice. He didn't just wake up and say "I'm a prodigy so I'll just chill and masterpieces will flow.." he practiced and practiced. There was no facebook, twitter, internet, etc., so it was just eat, sleep and practice. Of course he's going to be a freaking virtuoso if he's throwing his all into it.

    I'm not a fan of exams and grades being used to say whether someone is smart or not. I believe education isn't just about grades, and degrees. But unfortunately we live in a world where even the name of a school someone attends is enough to elevate them above others.

    Screw this exam that was given to you in kindergarten of all places. If you want to be good at math practice practice practice. I spent elementary and junior high saying "I hate math. I'm not good at math. I suck at math" only to realize later on in high school and college that I can get 90+'s on math exams. "nuff" said.
  9. Oct 20, 2011 #8
    thanks for your input, but I definitely feel like there are such things as prodigies.

    To me, the fact that some people (terence tao and mozart for example) can be born with such higher levels of understanding in certain areas indicates that everyone is born with different levels of natural talent. So apparently I was on the low end for math...

    Now the question for me is to what extent can lack of natural talent be overcome by hard work? I know in the area of athleticism it can be overcome a great deal. Through a program of plyometrics and weightlifting, I was able to add 10 inches on to my vertical leap and I run much faster too. Now I would consider myself more athletic than most of the people with "natural athletic ability". But now I wonder if I can pull off a similar stunt in math....?
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2011
  10. Oct 20, 2011 #9
    Age 40: Did you manage to win the fields medal? :tongue:
  11. Oct 20, 2011 #10
    Yes you can, dude! If Mozart was "born with it" then why did he need to practice? he was born with it so it should come naturally without any work shouldn't it? Keep in mind his father also taught him. Suppose his father rather pushed him into athleticism or to go to med school to be a doctor, he wouldn't have been composing by age 6. He was born into a musical family, where his dad and sister were musicians and he basically ate, breath music as a child. If your parents fed you math from the time you could talk and walk, you would be really good at it too.

    Don't use "natural ability" as an excuse, bro. No one can escape hard work, putting in effort. Some people who you might think are "naturally gifted" spent hours practicing and practicing to get where they are. A musician I know once said, "if someone is playing an instrument or singing and it sounds good, don't just look and listen and say this person is really good. You don't know the kind of work that went on behind the scenes for the person to get where they are at. While you might be sleeping such person is up all night practicing."

    Natural ability can only take one so far. In the end hard work wins, bro. So to answer your question yes you can pull of a similar "stunt" in math. Just work on your weak areas. It wont happen over night or in one semester but it can happen. I don't believe in that natural ability / born with a gift nonsense.
  12. Oct 20, 2011 #11
    Everyone learns differently. I never tried in high school, I passed first semester Algebra 2 with a C, and failed the next semester. But, I got serious and took Trig during college, and Pre/Cal (which I thought would be brutal but wasn't) over the summer. Now I'm in Calculus and learning a lot about algebra, and my algebra skills have greatly improved. Everyone learns differently, I have to do a lot of homework to understand the topics, but I have a cousin who took AP Calculus in high school and never did one homework assignment because he just didn't have the time for it, yet he passed the exam with a 5. He just sees the material and understand it. You have to realize we all learn differently. Some get it right away, for others it may take longer. Some topics you'll understand quickly, and your peers are confused, and vice versa. You become good at math and anything by spending more time on it, and the more classes you take the more your brain adapts to it, and develops better analytical skills. And this is a great skill. And if you truly want to understand the material, do extra homework, and spend time doing math, and you'll see a great improvement, and it's fun haha.
  13. Oct 21, 2011 #12
    I found I was good at math in college calculus. Before, I was in advanced classes but never applied myself because I was getting A's. I could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and solve basic algebra problems in first grade (2x+3=6x and the like), but after that I didn't advance much quicker than my classmates. Now, I do the math for fun and try to see if I can find out how to solve a problem before we're given the method in class (differential equations now).

    I'd say you're good at math whenever you want to be. For some kids with parents providing exceptional encouragement or education, this comes sooner. For other kids, it comes when they find something interesting.
  14. Oct 21, 2011 #13


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    Unfortunately, given the educational environment in the US, many kids never find out if they are good at math, IMO. They are held back by the "No Child Gets Ahead" philosophy. Unless their parents or other close caring people get involved, they will not get the advanced math instruction that they might benefit from. Binning children by age and not aptitude is costing the US, and we ought to start addressing this problem.
  15. Oct 21, 2011 #14
    Lots of bull being slung here. Who gives a rip about Mozart, et. al. Bottom line is YOU, do new concepts come easy to you or do you spend time looking at the page wonder what the hell it means? If you are having trouble with math now because you were a slacker in your early years, that can be fixed. Math is one of the fields where you really can't build a solid house of a squishy foundation. In math everything builds on the things that came before. You should have zero weak areas in your early math, fix any gaps, and then if you find yourself continually struggling to keep up, there's your sign.
  16. Oct 21, 2011 #15
    Whether you agree with it or not, people are born with gifts, spatial and physical awareness are things that are bestowed by genetics. They are things people born without them can get but it doesn't change the fact that certain people are born with things they didn't have to practice at.

    Cal Newport says the same thing, it's all about practice, but when asked about athletics he changes his tune; like when one sees a 300lb linebacker who can run a 40 yard dash in 4-5 seconds he says there's definetly genetics that go into that. I feel this is intellectually dishonest.
  17. Oct 21, 2011 #16

    so do I. Why would genetics play a huge role in physical talents but not mental?
  18. Oct 21, 2011 #17
    Psychology has shown that different people do have different mental abilities. But it's more complex than "some people are born smart and some are born dumb." Some think most naturally in spatial sense, some in a linear procedural sense.

    But what really matters is finding out what you love enough to do every day. If you love math enough, even if your are not born with a natural math brain, you will be willing to put in the extra work to make up the difference.
  19. Oct 21, 2011 #18
    Mental gifts do exist. Everywhere I go I hear music. My wife does not. (I don't mean a pop song is stuck in my hear. I mean new songs just seem to flow into my mind.) I almost went into music composition, but discovered I did not love it as much physics.
  20. Oct 21, 2011 #19
    I did this obsessively during my teen years, but I seemed to have shut it out now :confused:
  21. Oct 21, 2011 #20
    cool stories, guys. I'm sticking to my guns. People being born with "gifts" = nonsense. The OP can sit there and use "natural ability and gift" as an excuse to not getting where he wants to be in math or he can do something about his situation. It's all up to him. So called "naturally gifted" people work hard at some point or another and their "natural gift" doesn't exempt them from practicing, working hard like everybody else. So it's up to you in the end.
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