By Gianina, IvyWise Master Tutor
Academic support is critical for success inside of the classroom. For many students struggling with complex coursework, like math, it’s important to seek out resources that will help you improve your math grade.
“I’m not really a math person.”
“I’ll never be as good at math as she is.”
“Math just isn’t getting easier for me, so it’s never going to.”
Chances are, you have heard one of these statements before – you might have even been the person saying them! If you find that you identify with the sentiments above, try and complete the following exercise.
Think about something that you excel at. It might be a sport or an instrument, painting or acting, you name it. Whatever it is that you’re good at, think back to when you first began. On your first day of trying out that activity, or even your first year, were you an expert? Were you sinking every three-pointer with ease or perfectly playing full sonatas? Did you learn without making mistakes or facing failures?
If you answered ‘no’, you’re in great company. Most everyone, even folks who are now considered extremely talented, struggled at first with new challenges. Famously, Albert Einstein failed his high school entrance exam. Beyoncé’s debut musical endeavor fell apart (ever heard of Girl Tyme?) Every major publishing house rejected J.K. Rowling’s first manuscript, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Though it may sound laughable, achieving greater success in your math classes is really no different from what these people had to do when confronted with obstacles. It may take time, but perseverance can pay off. If your relationship with math could be improved and you find yourself thinking, “I’m not a math person”, challenge yourself to instead think, “I’m just not a math person…yet.”
Researchers in the field of psychology and education have conducted studies that support that a more optimistic outlook in the face of new challenges can have a positive impact on overall achievement. Renowned developmental psychologist Carol Dweck summarized her findings on the power of growth mindset as the following:
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gift). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.
Researchers also believe that in addition to having more mental energy to dedicate to the task at hand rather than towards feelings of self-doubt or fear, people who exhibit a growth mindset are actually able to change their brain’s chemistry. This phenomenon is called ‘neuroplasticity’ and is the ability of the brain to make new neural connections as the result of new experiences. When you learn new concepts and practice new habits, you are actively rewiring your brain to think and act differently. Mistakes are a sign that your brain is growing to accommodate new skills and ideas. Mistakes should be embraced and learned from.
Committing to having a growth mindset is a great first step, but thinking rosy thoughts isn’t going to automatically make your math grade go up. With the research in mind, here are three tips that could help boost your math grades.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This one might seem obvious, but it bears repeating: do all your homework. Attempt every single problem that is assigned to you in and out of class, even if they’re billed as “optional” or “extra credit.” There is something to be learned or reinforced with every math problem. The act of repetition is a tool used by many mathematicians to master a new set of skills and can help reinforce the strength of your neural connections. In the same way a new technique might be drilled in your soccer practices or voice lessons, repetition can vastly improve your ability to tackle certain problems.
Don’t Run Away From Mistakes
The next time you get a piece of graded work back from your math teacher, make sure you understand how you got to your answer and what you can do differently going forward. When looking over mistakes, how many times have you seen where you went wrong? There’s a common saying that hindsight is 20/20, but hindsight could also help you out on your next assignment. Having an “Aha!” moment as you review your solutions shows that you have reached a new understanding of the material, and it often means that you won’t make the same mistakes again.
Ask For Help!
But what, you’re asking, can you do if you’re feeling thoroughly lost in your math class? The biggest mistake you could make is thinking that you have to make these improvements all on your own. Avail yourself of the resources at your fingertips. There are many academic math support websites out there, such as Khan Academy, a classic go-to for self-paced review. If you are a visual learner, the activities on the Desmos Graphing website are excellent for illustrating what you’re learning in your math class, from pre-algebra all the way to calculus. DeltaMath is another great tool that allows you to give yourself problems sets composed of the specific skills you need help with – if you get an answer wrong, there are step-by-step guides to help you out.
Don’t forget that the people around you are resources as well! If your teachers have regular office hours, have you considered signing up for a regular time? Do you have a trusted friend (one you don’t get distracted with) that is crushing this material and who could be your study buddy? Sometimes hearing information that you’ve heard before in a novel way could make all the difference.
If personalized tutoring is an option for you, tutors at IvyWise provide academic support for students who may need additional help mastering their current coursework. IvyWise also provides comprehensive test prep and tutoring services for both AP exams, SAT Subject Tests, and more. Along with your regular math class grades, the math AP exams and the SAT Subject Tests are an important part of the college admissions process. If you plan to take either of these tests, it’s important to know where you stand with your test prep, what areas you need to improve, and how to create an effective test prep strategy.
There’s a light at the end of the math class tunnel. The struggle is real, and it means that your brain is growing. Perseverance, a growth mindset, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes are all key ingredients in reshaping your relationship with math. You can do it!