Why Is Math Hard


Have you ever wondered why math is easier for some students and not for others? According to a Gallup Poll in 2005, students were asked to name the school subject that they considered to be the most difficult, mathematics came out on top. This is probably not a surprise to teachers and parents. The question this raises is what is it about math that makes it so difficult?

In this article we will discuss why some students have a difficulty with math and how to improve their chances. Most students have the capability to succeed in math, so let’s being our discussion with patience and persistence.

Patience and Persistence

The key word here is difficult implying something that is not easy, hard or complicated. It is important to keep in mind when learning math that it takes patience and persistence. Math is not a subject that is intuitively obvious requiring little effort on the part of the student; it requires effort. For most students this means devoting lots of time and energy in understanding the material presented in class and most importantly, doing the homework.

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can quickly find answers to our questions and solutions to our most difficult problems via the Internet. With this technology available to students, is it no wonder that patience and persistence is lacking amongst students?

Importance of Homework

Teachers assign homework to give students the extra practice needed to be successful in math. Students with the highest grades in the class almost always have perfect or near-perfect homework scores. The worst grades in the class inevitably go to students with poor homework scores. For many students the problem has little to do with dominate brain types; it is mostly a matter of will power.

Dominate Brain Types

Many researchers and scientists put forth the notion of left brain vs. right brain dominate students in being able to understand math quickly. Basically, many scholars believe that some students are wired with better math skills than other students. According to some researchers, students that are left-brain dominant tend to have stronger math abilities than right brain dominate students. They argue that left-brain dominant students may grasp concepts quickly while right-brain dominant students do not.

There will always be opposing views on any topic and the process of human learning is subject to debate just like any other topic.

Cumulative Discipline

Math is a cumulative subject. This means students must understand the material before they move on to the next. Without a solid understanding of basic math skills, some students will fall behind their peers as they advanced through the mathematical curriculum.

Students begin their mathematical understanding in elementary school where they learn rules for addition, multiplication, fractions, etc. Understanding these basic rules, along with others taught in a typical basic arithmetic class is important in future math courses.

Next is middle school where students first learn about formulas, operations and word problems, etc. Typically, these new topics also include material taught in previous math courses and introduce abstract thinking. Again, students must master this material before they move on to more advanced topics to build on their repertoire of mathematical knowledge.

For some students, a problem starts to appear sometime between middle school and high school. This may be in part that students move on to a new grade or subject before they are ready. Students who earn a “C” in middle school have absorbed and understood about half of what they should, but they move on anyway. Some reasons they move on or are moved on are:

  • They think a C is good enough
  • Parents do not realize that moving on without a full understanding poses a big problem for high school and college
  • Teachers don’t have time and energy enough to ensure that every single student understands every single concept

So these students move to the next level with a weak mathematical foundation. This weakness in their mathematical understanding can only lead to a serious limitation when it comes to future courses and real potential for failure.

Making Math Less Difficult

We have discussed a few of the more important topics on why some students have a difficulty in understanding math. They are summarized here:

  • Are not patient enough to give math time and energy it deserves
  • Are satisfied by just getting by
  • Move on to study more complex concepts with a weak foundation
  • A weak mathematical foundation can only lead to collapse at some point

Although this may sound like bad news, the solution may not be that difficult. No matter where you are in your math studies, you can excel if you backtrack far enough to reinforce your foundation. You must fill in the holes with a deep understanding of the basic concepts you encountered in middle school math. The trick is to be patient enough. Here are some guidelines that may help in improving your mathematical abilities:

  • If you’re in middle school do not attempt to move on until you understand pre-algebra concepts fully.
  • If you’re in high school and struggling with math, download a middle school math syllabus. Make sure you understand every single concept and activity that is covered in middle grades.
  • If you’re in college, backtrack all the way to basic math and work forward. This won’t take as long as it sounds. You can work forward through years of math in a couple weeks.
  • Most importantly, do your homework.
  • Get a tutor if necessary.


Some people are better at math than others, just like some people run faster than others, and some people need glasses to see while others don’t. The truth is that most people are capable at being competent at math. Just like most people without serious health issues or disabilities can learn to run 3 or 10 miles. For some students, the hardest part is to get started and believe that you can do it. Next identify your weaknesses and take the appropriate steps to overcome your weaknesses.

No matter where you start and where you struggle, you must make sure you acknowledge any weak spots in your foundation and fill the holes with practice and understanding.

We hope you found this article informative and wish the best to your child’s success.

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