Students of all ages, from primary school children to adult learners, may struggle with any level of mathematics. Far too often, these challenges result in students failing a quiz, test or ultimately an entire course. Recognizing the common issues that lead to failure can help prevent it from happening -- if the proper steps are taken to mitigate the problem.
Not Seeking Help
A major reason for failing math is the failure to seek help when needed. At the elementary and secondary levels, teachers ought to identify struggling students and employ intervention strategies such as requiring students to attend review sessions or calling parents; in reality, this doesn’t always happen, so sometimes students need to seek help of their own accord. At the college level, professors rarely engage in such interventions, leaving the student to take the initiative. Extra help can be sought through a variety of means, such as visiting a school or campus math lab or tutoring center, consulting the instructor directly or hiring a professional tutor.
Lack of Practice
Neglecting to complete out-of-class assignments or not putting the required effort into these assignments is another principal reason students fail math. Upon viewing an instructor demonstration, students oftentimes think they understand how to solve a problem, but when they pick up the pencil to attempt a similar problem themselves, they may not even know how to begin. Learning math skills and concepts can be like learning a new sport, in that the more learners practice, the better they become. Additionally, students need to gain experience with different types of problems that aren’t always shown by the teacher, and the way to gain this experience is by completing assignments and even working through extra practice problems when necessary.
Insufficient Prior Knowledge
Mathematics is a subject that builds upon previously learned concepts. Therefore, it’s essential to have the necessary prerequisite knowledge before beginning to study a new math topic. For example, many students struggle with Algebra 1 because they lack the basic arithmetic skills required to perform algebraic operations. Using sports as an analogy, you can’t run a marathon if you can’t complete a 5K.
Not Asking Questions
Too often in math classes, students keep quiet when they don’t understand a piece of information. Understandably, students can be intimidated by raising their hands and exposing their confusion in front of a large group, but other learners quite frequently have the same questions. If you’re just not comfortable asking a question in a group setting, ask the instructor or a knowledgeable classmate after class.
Difficulty Paying Attention
A student may not have a diagnosable attention disorder such as ADHD but could still struggle with remaining attentive in a math class. Math requires a tremendous amount of focus, especially when complex, multistep procedures are being explored. Students who become distracted miss crucial steps in the problem-solving process, leading to trouble when attempting to solve problems on their own. Some symptoms of attention obstruction may include appearing fatigued or fidgety, or losing one's place while working through a math problem.
Based in western New York, Amy Harris began writing for Demand Media and Great Lakes Brewing News in 2010. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Penn State University; she taught high school math for several years and has also worked in the field of instructional design.