Think you’re just bad with numbers? Think again.
How many times have you heard someone say that they’re just “bad at math”? “I’m just bad with numbers,” they might say. Or even, “I’m just more into the arts, you know?”
But according to experts, unless you’re talking about mathematical geniuses, there is no such thing as having a “natural talent” in math. Just like reading or riding a bike, it’s a learned skill.
If you think you’re bad at math, there are two likely reasons:
Here’s what usually happens, according to finance and economics professors Miles Kimball and Noah Smith, who wrote about this in this Atlantic article.
Your parents weren’t big on preparing you for math. But some of your classmates, unlike you, have been drilled on math from a very young age. Naturally, during your first few math tests, these kids end up getting higher grades than you.
But instead of chalking this up to your lack of preparation, you simply think that you’re bad at math, and they’re good at math. Thinking that there’s no way of changing your skill level, you don’t apply yourself in your classes, and do even worse.
Believing that you’re bad at math, in other words, can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And because so many jobs today are highly dependent on math skills, doing so can sabotage your future.
In this paper by Zurich University professor Elsberth Stern, she writes that the way mathematics is taught plays a huge part in why so many students have difficulties with the subject.
She writes that instead of focusing on helping students understand concepts, teachers often resort to transmitting information through repetition and memorization. She writes:
“Such learning environments, however, may, at best, help students accumulate facts or acquire simple skills but will not support them in building up the conceptual knowledge they need to model new and complex situations, as required in science and mathematics.”
Natural talent has very little to do with mathematical skills. And this applies to other areas as well. It takes grit and hard work to excel in any field—whether you’re an artist, a scientist, or an athlete.
When you don’t do well at something right away, don’t be discouraged. Put in the time to build up the skill, and soon, you may very well surprise yourself with your progress.
That settles it: you aren't really bad at math, in spite of your test scores back in school. Tell us what you think about this revelation in the comments.
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