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**Coping with Math Anxiety**

Linda Retterath Math faculty

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What is math anxiety? Math anxiety is an emotional, rather than intellectual, problem. However, math anxiety interferes with a person's ability to learn math and therefore results in an intellectual problem. (Academic Advising: Math Anxiety, Jane Berg.) Math anxiety is learned. If we were able to accurately study all the life experiences of a math anxious person, we would be able to discover the circumstances under which the math anxiety was learned. (Math Anxiety Reduction, p. 8).

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**Math Anxiety Bill of Rights by Sandra L. Davis**

I have the right to learn at my own pace and not feel put down or stupid if I’m slower than someone else. I have the right to ask whatever questions I have. I have the right to ask for extra help. I have the right to ask a teacher for help. I have the right to say I don’t understand. I have the right not to understand. I have the right to feel good about myself regardless of my abilities in math.

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**Math Anxiety Bill of Rights (cont.)**

I have the right not to base my self-worth on my math skills. I have the right to view myself as capable of learning math. I have the right to evaluate my math instructors and how they teach math. I have the right to relax. I have the right to be treated as a competent adult. I have the right to dislike math. I have the right to define success in my own terms.

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**Success builds confidence, set yourself up for success!**

Start at the right level. Math is a language and so just like a foreign language, it is crucial to begin at the right level. If you jump into a class that is too advanced, you are setting yourself up for anxiety and problems. Don’t put off math classes till the end of your community college career…that will just put extra pressure on you. Decide to do your best! This will take discipline and hard work, but you can do it. Work on having a positive attitude about math.

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**Dealing with Emotions Feelings do not always reflect the truth!**

A person may “feel” like they aren’t able to do something, when they really can! When you feel anxious: Name it- Acknowledge your fear Challenge it-What is the real reason I feel this way? Channel it- What positive steps can I take to overcome this?

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In a math class… Come to class prepared! Being prepared helps manage anxiety. If possible, look over the material you will be covering in class prior to class (read the textbook), so you have some idea of what will be covered. It will make it easier to understand what your teacher is teaching. Sit near the front of the class, there will be less distractions. Ask if something isn’t clear. If you don’t feel comfortable asking a question in class, ask your teacher at the break, after class or during office hours. Those hours are for you to take advantage of!

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In a math class… (cont.) Talk to your teacher! Their job is to help you understand and master the material. Take notes in class, especially of problems your teacher does on the board. Your teacher is doing those problems because they think those problems are important. Make a friend…your classmates and you have the same goal…to be successful in your class. Try studying with other students on a weekly basis. Exchange phone numbers, or addresses, with some classmates, so there is someone you can get in touch with if you miss class.

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Outside of class… Try to review the material before too much time passes. You want to review it while you still remember what your teacher was doing and why. It’s good to set aside sometime each week to go back and review earlier material. This helps you put your new knowledge into long term memory. Do the homework! If you don’t know where to start, then go to the tutoring center or to your teacher’s office hour to get help with what you don’t understand. Make sure you learn the vocabulary. Math uses words in different ways than they are used in other subjects. If you get frustrated, try going and doing something relaxing, and then come back to your math.

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**Outside of class (cont.)**

Try to read the textbook. Look for boxes that show important points or parts that are highlighted or labeled “Helpful Hints”. Does the chapter have a review of the concepts? If it does, you can use that to help you remember concepts that were covered previously. Read through some examples before jumping into the homework. If your class uses or something like that, try watching a video if you don’t understand a problem. Be careful though about becoming too dependent on the “Help Me Solve This” button!

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Before the Exam If your teacher gives you practice problems before the exam, make sure to do them! Try to simulate a test taking situation…pick a time when distractions will be less and try not to use any notes when doing the problems. Make sure you check your work. If you aren’t allowed to use calculators on an exam, don’t use a calculator when preparing for the exam! If you don’t understand a problem or what the directions are asking, ask your teacher! Practice visualizing yourself taking the exam and understanding the problems. You are relaxed and confident as you do the work. Take some deep breaths.

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During an Exam.. Think of an exam as a way to show off how hard you have worked! You don’t have to start with the first problem. Look through the exam and begin with a problem you feel confident about. Make sure and show your work, step by step. That way, even if you make a mistake, you can get partial credit maybe. If you have trouble with a problem, go on, you can always come back to it. If you feel very anxious, try taking some slow, deep breaths. Try to concentrate on the math, not your anxiety!

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During the Exam (cont.) Check your work before you turn in your exam. Have you shown your work clearly? Don’t defeat yourself with negative “self talk”. If you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this”, talk back to that voice! Remind yourself: “I have studied and I will do the best I can. I can do this!” If you don’t understand something during an exam, ask your teacher…the worse they can say is, “I can’t tell you.”

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After the Exam Go over every problem carefully and make sure you understand why your teacher took off points. It’s even a good idea to go over the exam with your teacher, ask to make an appointment to do that. Look over the mistakes you made. Were they careless errors or did you not understand some of the material? Did you understand the directions for every problem? Save your exam to study from in the future and to use to help you prepare for the final.

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**What is next? Practice relaxation and anxiety reducing techniques.**

When you choose your classes, choose a time that makes sense for you. When are you most alert and have the easiest time concentrating? Make sure you have a place that is conducive to studying. Turn your phone off when you are studying! After you have worked on a problem and gotten it right, think about what you did. Review the steps in your mind. You might even find that you enjoy math!

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Sources: Hackworth, R. D. (1992). Math Anxiety Reduction. Clearwater, FL: H & H Publishing Co. Tobias, S. (1978). Overcoming Math Anxiety. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. w/bro/math.html

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