Posted in Tips for Students

Math Mistakes

A previous post looked at how to learn math, this post is about common mistakes that keep people from learning it.

1. Negative Self Talk

Telling yourself “This is hard”, “I hate this”, “I’m stupid”, or any of the many variations of these three main themes is wasted effort that both drains your mental resources and makes you miserable. You can just as easily talk yourself into learning math as you can talk yourself out of it, and increase your level of enjoyment at the same time, by training yourself to replace negative self talk with positive, or at least neutral, internal commentary.

2. Taking It Too Seriously

Allowing yourself to relax, go slow, be clumsy, and aimlessly explore is a crucial part of the learning process. Pressuring yourself to get it perfect right away will actually keep you from trying, leading you to fail before you even begin. Don’t worry about competing with anyone or solidifying your plans for the future. Just allow yourself to enjoy the process and learn at your own pace.

3. Not Taking It Seriously Enough

Learning math isn’t a life-or-death matter, but it does take practice and repetition, just like any other skill. You wouldn’t expect to sit out gym class by saying “I know how to do pushups.” Mere exposure to the material alone does not build mathematical skill; it takes practice and repetition to train your brain. The pay-off is that what seems hard at first becomes easy, and then automatic, allowing you to progress to greater levels of skill and understanding.

4. Cramming

Each day that you fall behind increases the proportional amount of work you have to do to get caught up, and decreases the chances that you ever will. In the extreme case, the chances that you will be able to fit several weeks or months worth of learning into a few days or hours are slim to none. And even if you do manage to successfully pass a test this way, the effort will be wasted in the long run because you will forget the material about as quickly as you learned it. Laying the foundation consistently is what provides the best short-term grades and long-term knowledge.

5. Not Getting Help

Not asking for help when you really need it can mean that you lose the opportunity to truly understand the material, or at the very least that you waste a lot of time following dead ends. You may waste three hours struggling to understand a concept that an experienced tutor or peer could explain to you in thirty minutes, allowing you to devote your time and energy to more productive pursuits. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, even if it is from an outside professional, because your time and the educational opportunities it represents is the most valuable thing you have.


Dane Dormio is an online tutor and academic coach who specializes in helping all types of students achieve life and academic success, especially homeschooled students and those preparing for STEM careers. More information and resources can be found on his website at

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