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I like math, but I'm bad at it. What should I do?

  1. Mar 5, 2013 #1
    I need some math advice or recommendations, but first I will explain my situation.

    I am an adult with an associates and I have been fortunate enough to have my employer offer to send me back to school for M.E. I really enjoy math and physics. In fact, some of my favorite classes when I was getting my associates were physics and statics.

    The problem is that I am not very good at math. I don't retain much from lectures and end up learning it on my own later. If I cannot figure it out on my own from notes or other resources, then I will need to turn to help from a friend or tutor.

    So, it is not that I hate math...I actually really enjoy it. Especially when something finally clicks and I get this sense of reward. However, it can be extremely frustrating when I'm stuck. How can someone be so bad at something they find interesting and enjoy? Are there any resources out there that can help me look at things in a different way so it is better absorbed?

    Career or degree change is not really an option for me. The worst case scenario would be to just drop out altogether and carry on with life, but refuse I to give into this problem just because its difficult. There must be some other way to train myself so that I am not doubling or tripling up on my study and bothering my tutor so much.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2013 #2
    I think I am the same way. I like math, but am naturally bad at it. I simply overcompensated by spending inordinate amounts of time reading the book, working problems and asking for help from tutors and professors.

    I dont think there is an easy way out for those of us that are bad at math... You have to double or triple up on your study time and you have to bother your tutor and professor a lot.

    edit - I should add, do a diversity of things. If ten hours studying a chapter doesnt cut it for you, dont spend the next ten doing the same thing. Seek out a different text on the subject, or classmates/tutor etc. Make sure your studying is diverse. A mix of reading, doing problems and talking about the subject with others.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2013
  4. Mar 5, 2013 #3
    In my opinion every one is good at math, but the people who say they are bad, are either too lazy to try to understand it, or just needs a bit of practice.

    When I was in High School, I completely hated math, since I was terrible at it, but I loved physics and chemistry. Then I went to university to study Chemical Engineering, and I had very little trouble in the maths, since I was very motivated and loved several aspects of my career choice.

    In my opinion you just need to practice more, find the logic behind the subjects and get more mentally agility.
  5. Mar 5, 2013 #4
    Frankly that seems... ridiculous. Is math the only subject that everyone is good at or is everybody good at every subject? It sounds more like a high school teacher's platitude than a reasonable model of the human population.

    I think its obvious that humans are diverse and our strengths and weaknesses are diverse. I have worked with mentally retarded people who could not grasp a limit no matter how hard you tried. They are someone and they are not good at math. This somewhat sets the floor of the spectrum. Above this you will have non-mentally retarded people that are better, but still not good and so on.
  6. Mar 5, 2013 #5
    I second ModusPwnd. If you're not a naturally quick learner, this can be compensated with time and a lot of effort. I received tutoring when I was in high school and was in general fairly math-phobic until I mustered up the courage (a few years after other studies) to go into a physics program.

    My math subjects in undergrad physics ended up being some of my stronger courses and nowadays I quite like dealing with the interesting math that shows up in advanced physics courses and research papers.
  7. Mar 5, 2013 #6
    Well, thank you for the feedback. Unfortunately for me, it looks like I just need to keep grinding it out like I have been doing. I wouldn't say that I am not a quick learner in general, but I have to work twice as hard with mathematics. Even then I sometimes feel like I have just memorized how to do it and I don't truly "understand" it....if that makes sense? It's very unsatisfying when that happens.

    Do any of you know of a website out there that has things like recorded lectures? I have been looking for something like that to help in areas I wasn't able to pick up on during my lecture. Or even better...get ahead so that I've already seen the material before the lecture in hopes that it will be easier to follow along. I know of a subscription based website (I wont link because I don't know if its against the rules) for learning software that is exactly the type of thing I would love to find for math.

  8. Mar 5, 2013 #7
    Sorry, I probably didn't explain myself properly. I actually meant that ALMOST anyone can learn math to some extent, and you don´t have to be some sort of genius to learn Engineering level math if you work at your own pace and have enough motivation. At least that worked well for me.

    But, I might be very wrong... =/

    And little tip... In youtube there are several videos from courses at MIT, Standford, and several other universities... These lectures might be helpful.
  9. Mar 5, 2013 #8
    Check out things like coursera, MIT opencourseware, edX, khan academy, etc.
  10. Mar 5, 2013 #9
    Awesome, thank you! I have seen the Khan Academy before and did not think it would really help me. However, I just saw something on Coursera that has peeked my interest. I will check out the others as well. Thank you for the links!
  11. Mar 6, 2013 #10
    What's more difficult for you ? To apply mathematics to analyze a physical problem or to understand mathematics by itself ?
  12. Mar 6, 2013 #11
    Some people are just naturally better at math than others.

    I am a math major taking upper level courses and no matter how much I study and review and do textbook problems there are people who will learn the same material in a third the time.
    Then you have Putnam fellows etc who could basically rederive modern mathematics from the bottom up if they wished.
    If you want to be a great mathematician or physicist than natural talent is vital. If you want to be an engineer, you should have no problem learning the trivial mathematics they use by rote.
  13. Mar 6, 2013 #12
    Try Trachtenberg to help with your maths Dobie.
    http://teachingclicks.com/67JC/wp-co...erg-System.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  14. Mar 6, 2013 #13
    A hobby shouldn't be frustrating... why not try something else? As I don't have to do maths or programming these days I find myself gravitating to other things... reading novels, internet chess, and listening to classical music are favourites at the moment. Mathematics can be incredibly frustrating because it's so difficult to find a book pitched at my level... the popular & UG books are too banal and "same old", the postgraduate textbooks are (mostly) too hard, i.e., it takes too much effort to get over the difficult bits... unless someone is paying me to do it.
  15. Mar 6, 2013 #14
    I would have to say it is the initial grasping of the concepts that I find most difficult. This is much easier for me if I am sitting down one-on-one with a professor or tutor.

    I wouldn't call this a hobby. It's for my career.
  16. Mar 6, 2013 #15
    I find it amusing that you say that you're supposed to retain a lot of information from lectures. Don't fall for the common trap of thinking that the majority of your learning is from lectures.
  17. Mar 7, 2013 #16
    You said you could "just drop out altogether and carry on with life". Why not do that? Why is it a worse case scenario? Being unhappy (i.e., frustrated beyond endurance) is, surely, the real worse case scenario. Beating your head against a brick wall just because you think it's a challenge is an indication that you have induced brain damage through all that banging.

    Then again, if you *really* need a better career to be happier, it might be worth short-term math angst to get through. So get slogging, don't bother looking for a shortcut there isn't one. There's no magic trick that will get you understanding everything in a lecture, during the lecture, - that only happens in grade school, and only with the kindest teachers, hand-holding the kiddies all the way through.

    In serious colleges you get information blitzed at you in lectures, and are expected to slave all the hours god sends outsides lectures to understand those lectures... hitting textbooks, begging the staff for clues, slogging in the library till the librarian throws you out at closing time, then working through all the examples in all related Schaum books into the wee small hours, putting your family in a distant second place, ditching your social life... then .. just maybe... you may be a physicist my son (at least, one in a thousand of you may be...)
  18. Mar 8, 2013 #17

    I had to check your name to ensure that this post was not made by me a few years ago.

    You said it yourself--you *can* learn, it's just that you're not learning as fast as everyone else *seems* to, and you can't retain from the lectures you've heard. As InvalidID states, the "retaining info from lectures" thing shouldn't be a gauge of learning ability.

    There are boatloads of videos out there. MIT OCW , Berkeley, PatrickJLMT on YT, etc. You are sure to find coverage of a given topic that speaks to you.

    And when you get stuck, console yourself with the fact that you *will* get through it.....and accept it as a challenge to find clarity.

    I wouldn't give up...I didn't , and I am still alive to tell the tale. :)
  19. Mar 8, 2013 #18
    This is a good point. Math generally takes more time than other subjects. Don't be misled into thinking that everyone else is finding it easier than you are. The people in your classes who are breezing through the material usually have more background than you do. Preparation trumps almost everything.

    If you have some shaky foundations, take your time to properly review what you need to regain your confidence. Everything afterwards will be easier.
  20. Mar 9, 2013 #19
    And these are videos of LECTURES (!) But lectures are the problem in the first place. They are also likely to cover many topics you don't need to learn for your particular course. So following this advice is likely to *really* slow you down.

    I think it's far better just attending the set of lectures at your institution, and then hitting the textbooks with the lectures, exam & specific learning aims in mind. If you can't understand a specific topic and your lecturer, fellow students, recommended textbooks, are no help, I would try, in order, (i) looking at other textbooks on that specific topic, (ii) asking questions in physics forums, (iii) doing specific searches in google on that topic, and reading the most likely textual pages.

    If even all this fails you *might* consider finding specific lectures on the topic... but even then you'd probably be best leaving if for a day and then checking the more formal sources again. Lectures are not an efficient way to learn, they should be looked mainly as a motivational tool, "scene setter", and a place to get noticed... So one set of lectures, the ones you're actually expected to attend, should be enough...
  21. Mar 10, 2013 #20
    Your other suggestions are good but I want to point out one thing:

    There's a difference between lectures in-class and lectures you can watch, rewind, fast forward, and re-watch * infinity online in the comfort of your home or preferred study area.

    Some of the youtube videos are not full formal lectures, they're explanations of a certain topic/problem type.

    Other lectures/recitations focus more on problem solving and I always find those helpful--it's good to see how others approach solving a problem.
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