# Can you learn to be good at math or are you just born with it ?

Can you learn to be good at math or are you just "born with it"?

I'm 16 and in grade 11. I've taken only the minimum amount of math required and only college level math at that. But computer science requires a lot of math, mainly calculus, advanced functions and physics. My question is this: can I still try hard and learn all that stuff (I'd have to take some grade 10 prerequisites) even in grade 11? Or are people just born with good math skills?

I'm 16 and in grade 11. I've taken only the minimum amount of math required and only college level math at that. But computer science requires a lot of math, mainly calculus, advanced functions and physics. My question is this: can I still try hard and learn all that stuff (I'd have to take some grade 10 prerequisites) even in grade 11? Or are people just born with good math skills?
Man, if anyone ever tells you that you weren't "born" with something and will thus fail, I'm telling you right now they're full of it.
Its true that there is such a thing as natural talent in mathematics, and it might even be true that to achieve the greatest heights you must be such a genius.

But at the level you and me are talking about, its determination and guts that wins the day. The willingness to sit down and not get up till you've solved it- you have that, and you'll be fine all the way to the edge.

There's no born with it. Its all hard work.

Some people might be better by a tiny tiny bit this itself does not save them time or effort(Maybe an hour) since it hardly matter. But by that tiny tiny bit it will give them encouragement and then enjoyment then they will spend more time doing it, that's how they get better. But talent vs hard work, hard work wins every-time.

Some people might be better by a tiny tiny bit this itself does not save them time or effort(Maybe an hour) since it hardly matter.
I have to disagree with this. I was able to easily understand every level of math up through the end of Calc 1 with minimal effort. I assure you I saved far more than an hour over my classmates who struggled to understand the material. More like an hour or two per week, every week I was in class since middle school.

That being said, even the people in my class with no innate math talent were able to grasp the material through hard work. So, even if a concept in math doesn't make immediate sense, you can still work through it if you want to succeed bad enough.

You'll be fine. Just keep at it. I am a Junior working toward by B.S. ME and I have learned most of my math the hard way: struggle through the reading and practice, practice, practice until it comes much more naturally.

I still struggle with some of the basics. I suck at geometry because I have never taken a class in it. I have learned all of those things along the way.

Good Luck

thrill3rnit3
Gold Member

You do well on anything when you practice a lot.

i think that anyone can practice math really hard to learn it. There's a difference in learning and being good. For example, there are some geniuses that are unique in that there mind can see mathematical solutions and patterns naturally, and that you must be born with.

So i guess my answer would be no. You can't learn to be good at math if you weren't born with it. it's like asking if you can make your iq much higher than it ever was. It's not impossible but most the time you have to be born with it.

Pengwuino
Gold Member

I've never heard of people who can't learn math. Some people are born with or were raised well enough into having a propensity for numbers and mathematics. Some weren't. With that being said, the former has a distinct advantage in learning mathematics but that in no way means the latter can't learn math, they just don't do it as fast. People who "just can't learn math" are people who were easily scared away from it or found they didn't learn as fast as other people which discouraged them or they found they learned other subjects and had more fun with other subjects. People who aren't "born with it" just need to work harder and learn to see problems the way other people see problems

From what you're saying, you're a year behind on your mathematics which is NOTHING. A year of math is nothing in college. Your first year courses won't even need them.

thrill3rnit3
Gold Member

if geniuses are the only ones who can learn math we wouldn't have schools and universities

Choppy

djeitnstine
Gold Member

When I was in middle school, algebra was the hardest thing I ever saw. "How does that 'x' get over there!?!" I would exclaim. After long hours of study and dedication, I have had an A in math ever since high school-I am a sophomore in uni now (also I had 2 years at a community college, calc I => II were both A's)- I was also employed as a tutor, to tutor other students in my class(yes they were at my level) at that community college. This fall I will be employed as a grader for some class (do not know which one yet) in the math department at this university.

So was I born with the talent? No...I sucked so bad, my grades would have amused everyone on this board.

And now (via hard work and dedication) I am able to offer help to - and remain in - the top 3% of my peers in this university.

Nabeshin

I have to disagree with this. I was able to easily understand every level of math up through the end of Calc 1 with minimal effort. I assure you I saved far more than an hour over my classmates who struggled to understand the material. More like an hour or two per week, every week I was in class since middle school.

That being said, even the people in my class with no innate math talent were able to grasp the material through hard work. So, even if a concept in math doesn't make immediate sense, you can still work through it if you want to succeed bad enough.
I'm going to chime in here to agree with the above. There really is a difference in some people's ability to learn mathematics. Some sit through a calculus lecture once and immediately understand and can apply the concepts, while other re-read the book/lecture notes 15 times to achieve minimal comprehension. Whether or not it's an effect of how you were raised or genetic is irrelevant by the time you get to an intermediate mathematics class because both are already set in stone.

(This applies more or less to all academic areas, and indeed, to most skill sets in the world. In this age of trying to make everyone feel great we tend to downplay genetics and innate ability, but when it comes down to it some people are just naturally good at some things. It usually goes beyond effort, too, as the ones with innate talent tend to be able to create, synthesize, and work at a higher level than those who struggle.)

That said, hard work will certainly allow you to learn these mathematics. Perhaps you will never make a significant contribution in the field, but few ever do. Especially since you're computer science I wouldn't sweat it so much, because with work and dedication you'll get what you need to succeed in that field easily. After all, this is the reason we have classes at high school/university. If everyone had natural talent in mathematics, only the textbooks would be needed, not the instructor. The instructor is there to clarify points that don't immediately make sense, essentially catering to that type of student.

Bottom line: don't fret.

Math isn't something you're born with, you work hard at it to gain proficiency at it. If you were to go into your local university's math department and go around asking the faculty how often they spent studying as students I would doubt very much you would get anybody saying they didn't spend very much time to succeed.

If I thought people with math skills are just "born with it" I would have never made it into university for my physics degree. At your age I was a mediocre student in math....at best. However, I've changed the way I studied. Also the important thing that I learned that it’s not simply enough to just do all the questions for one section than move on to the next. You need to continuously refresh that information during the semester so that you’re not cramming during exam time. Doing the above, I've done better on my exams at university than I ever did during high school.

Thanks everyone, you've truly inspired and motivated me.

Neslte, I don't know about your situation, but math in high school is a world apart from university... I had very mediocre math grades all my life through 11 grade and quit math. I took Calc my freshman year at uni and usually got the best grades in my class. In university, the professors appreciate thinking, not rote memorization of the mathematical procedures that high school teachers prefer (such as, getting no credit for a problem, although having the correct answer, but not using the method that they taught).
And neuroscience has a lot to say about prodigies of all kinds, including mathematical, so don't let talent issues concern you. Your neurons have the same connecting and long term potentiating ability as Erdős's!

Choppy

As a slight tangent, I might point out the danger of believe in natural ability.

In high school many students find they excel at mathematics (or any subject for that matter). As such they don't often have to put out a lot of skull sweat to do well in the subject. I would argue that the reason for this, is that yes there is perhaps some sort of innate ability, but likely their skills are exercised in particular activities such as extra reading, problem solving in extra-cirricular activities or games, exercising critical thinking skills among peers, etc.

In high school, ultimately the cirriculum is aimed at the general population. Even "advanced placement" courses are still essentially high school courses and essentially aimed at educating the general population. Students with any kind of advantage at all, will naturally excel in such environments.

Bottleneck into undergraduate univeristy - first year. Now the majority of students in the class have enough motivation to be there that they are willing to pay however many thousands of dollars just for a seat. Those people who have had an easy ride through high school and all of a sudden find it isn't so easy. However many of them can cram still come out somewhat close to the top. They cling to the notion they have a "natural ability."

Then comes the trap. Usually it's around second year. You go through a second bottleneck at this point. First year is for many, a "sampler" year. Some find out they don't like math and don't pursue it further. Some only need first year credit so they can apply to medical school. Those that remain, are highly motivated, and usually the ones the excelled in the first year class. Now your "innate" ability can't carry you and very quickly you have to develop some effective study habits, or suffer the steamroller of higher education.

That's my $0.02. As a slight tangent, I might point out the danger of believe in natural ability. In high school many students find they excel at mathematics (or any subject for that matter). As such they don't often have to put out a lot of skull sweat to do well in the subject. I would argue that the reason for this, is that yes there is perhaps some sort of innate ability, but likely their skills are exercised in particular activities such as extra reading, problem solving in extra-cirricular activities or games, exercising critical thinking skills among peers, etc. In high school, ultimately the cirriculum is aimed at the general population. Even "advanced placement" courses are still essentially high school courses and essentially aimed at educating the general population. Students with any kind of advantage at all, will naturally excel in such environments. Bottleneck into undergraduate univeristy - first year. Now the majority of students in the class have enough motivation to be there that they are willing to pay however many thousands of dollars just for a seat. Those people who have had an easy ride through high school and all of a sudden find it isn't so easy. However many of them can cram still come out somewhat close to the top. They cling to the notion they have a "natural ability." Then comes the trap. Usually it's around second year. You go through a second bottleneck at this point. First year is for many, a "sampler" year. Some find out they don't like math and don't pursue it further. Some only need first year credit so they can apply to medical school. Those that remain, are highly motivated, and usually the ones the excelled in the first year class. Now your "innate" ability can't carry you and very quickly you have to develop some effective study habits, or suffer the steamroller of higher education. That's my$0.02.
Hmmm, thanks Choppy, that's something I've been thinking about lately. I'm actually just about to enter second year...would you mind mentioning what a few of those highly effective study habits are?
This past year all I've learned is that studying=doing problems, and that reviewing notes does not get you far as far as problem solving ability. But that's about all I know...

turbo
Gold Member

To some extent, the appearance of "being born with it" may be due to a person's ability to accurately asses a problem, break it down, and apply the right procedures to solve it. Getting the "right" answers on homework and exams should not be a student's end-all goal, but a side-effect of having learned how to apply mathematical tools to problems.

Gladwell is not a scientist. He wrote the book because he was "bored and got an interesting idea". The 10k hours rule is out of thin air, based on something like 5 cases. Please do not quote Outliers as a scientific source.

Next, to address innate ability. Yes, there is a minimum ability required to understand math. It is relatively common, so no you don't need to be a genius. Generally, based on what I've seen in tutoring students, if you understand algebra and its mechanics you can cut it in computer science and calculus. If you want to pursue mathematics in deep theory, which a computer programmer usually doesn't, then there is an even higher intellectual talent required.

You do not need to be a genius to get a degree in a an (applied) science. The dumber you are the more work you will need to put in, until eventually you can't keep up. If you are excelling in highschool it means your ok in terms of ability.

At the risk of being burned at the stake, I'd like to point out that people enjoy excuses. They love making excuses and blaming their own shortcomings on things they percieve as 'out of their control'.

I know a lot of people in my math class and beyond that say that I get good grades because I'm a 'math person' or I have some sort of head start or magical ability or magic lamp or whatever that they don't.

Not the case at all, but if they admitted that the difference between my A and their F was not something they couldn't control (innate talent or what-have-you) but something much more ugly (like that they're lazy or inefficient at studying) that would shift their shortcomings onto them. It's much easier for people to believe they've been screwed in a genetic lottery than to believe that they possess the necessary talents but are willfully ignorant or unmotivated. Most people out there have the potential to become decent mathematicians but their discipline and effort is lacking.

Also, WHY oh god, is a topic like this made every single week? Have you noobs never heard of a search function or do you believe that your input and questions are so radically different than the dozens or so completed threads on the exact same topic?

fluidistic
Gold Member

At the risk of being burned at the stake, I'd like to point out that people enjoy excuses. They love making excuses and blaming their own shortcomings on things they percieve as 'out of their control'.

I know a lot of people in my math class and beyond that say that I get good grades because I'm a 'math person' or I have some sort of head start or magical ability or magic lamp or whatever that they don't.

Not the case at all, but if they admitted that the difference between my A and their F was not something they couldn't control (innate talent or what-have-you) but something much more ugly (like that they're lazy or inefficient at studying) that would shift their shortcomings onto them. It's much easier for people to believe they've been screwed in a genetic lottery than to believe that they possess the necessary talents but are willfully ignorant or unmotivated. Most people out there have the potential to become decent mathematicians but their discipline and effort is lacking.

Also, WHY oh god, is a topic like this made every single week? Have you noobs never heard of a search function or do you believe that your input and questions are so radically different than the dozens or so completed threads on the exact same topic?
Well said, bravo!

djeitnstine
Gold Member

At the risk of being burned at the stake, I'd like to point out that people enjoy excuses. They love making excuses and blaming their own shortcomings on things they percieve as 'out of their control'.

I know a lot of people in my math class and beyond that say that I get good grades because I'm a 'math person' or I have some sort of head start or magical ability or magic lamp or whatever that they don't.

Not the case at all, but if they admitted that the difference between my A and their F was not something they couldn't control (innate talent or what-have-you) but something much more ugly (like that they're lazy or inefficient at studying) that would shift their shortcomings onto them. It's much easier for people to believe they've been screwed in a genetic lottery than to believe that they possess the necessary talents but are willfully ignorant or unmotivated. Most people out there have the potential to become decent mathematicians but their discipline and effort is lacking.

Also, WHY oh god, is a topic like this made every single week? Have you noobs never heard of a search function or do you believe that your input and questions are so radically different than the dozens or so completed threads on the exact same topic?
I second that