The Top 5 Reasons Students Struggle with Math

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Mathematics is often considered to be one of the most challenging subjects in school. Recent surveys report that 37% of teens aged 13-17 found math to be the most difficult subject – the highest ranked overall. So, why do so many students struggle with math?

1) Attention difficulties. Math often involves multi-step problems, and students need to be able to perform several consecutive steps to find a solution. This requires staying actively focused on the task at hand. When complex math procedures are being taught, students often lose focus and become distracted during the lesson. As a result, he or she may miss important steps in the problem-solving process, and later struggle when trying to complete problems on their own. Being able to revisit prior concepts that were previously unclear is one of the main benefits of Tutor Doctor's individualized approach towards learning.

2) Math always builds upon previous concepts. Math is built on sequential learning. If a student didn’t fully understand a previous lesson's concept, they are likely to struggle when newer concepts are introduced. To reduce fractions, students need to know division first; to do algebra, students need to be comfortable with multi-step arithmetic, and so on. Unfortunately, many students feel uncomfortable or embarrassed asking questions in class when their teacher has already moved on to the next lesson. Math concepts are like building blocks, and the foundation always needs to be laid before moving forward.

3) Concepts are learned, but not understood. Often times students know how to perform an operation from repetition, but don’t really understand the meaning behind it. For example, times-table memorization has always been a staple of elementary school curriculum. However, a student may only know that “4 x 4 = 16” because he or she memorized it, and not because they fully understand the concept of multiplication. For this reason, many students benefit from visual representations, such as using small objects (like marbles or paperclips) when learning multiplication and division. The fact is, all students learn differently, and it can be hard to encompass every student’s unique learning style in a classroom. That’s where individualized tutoring really shines!

4) Lack of practice or patience. Many students simply don’t spend enough time practicing. Other students may not realize they need more time reviewing certain areas. Sometimes a student will feel like they understand a concept, but when attempting to do a problem themselves, they don't know how to begin (or end up struggling through the process). Students will often feel confident after watching their teacher explain the lesson in class, only to find that doing it independently can be a lot more challenging. There’s unfortunately no quick and easy solution to learn math – it requires lots of practice and patience! As tutors, we try to specifically identify the areas in which students need improvement and focus on closing these “gaps” in learning.

5) “When am I ever going to use this?” This classic line is a favorite of every math teacher, but more importantly signifies many students’ opinions that they will never use these skills outside of a classroom. In other words, students often have trouble connecting math to reality and seeing how it is applied in daily life. For instance, a student that struggles with fractions may have trouble understanding how to convert the fraction ½ to the decimal 0.50. However, the same student has no problem understanding that “half a dollar” is equal to 50 cents. This is a great example of the disconnect students sometimes experience when learning math. As we've talked about in previous blog posts, learning type can be separated into three categories – visual learners, auditory learners, and tactile learners. Some students won’t understand fractions by being told 4/8 is really “one half.” However, when visualizing a pizza with 8 slices, they suddenly understand that 4 slices would indeed be half the pizza! It is crucial for a student to recognize how mathematical concepts actually relate to real life in order for them to truly understand the material.

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