The real truth why some people are bad at math

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Why is math considered a subject that some people seem to get and others don't?

Why isn't, e.g., history one of those subjects? Or biology?

Some seem to quickly understand complex concepts while others only reach a certain level, and after that level, that's it - they don't understand anything anymore. Even if they work hard, persist, nothing seems to work.

So then they tend to think that some people are just naturally born with excellent math skills and the unfortunate are not. That's life. "I'm not good at math, and that's how it is - nothing I can do," they might say.

I was one of those people.

While there is some truth in that some people have a more logic-oriented mind or like numbers more than others, that's not the deciding factor. At all.

The truth is that math is just like any other subject or skill. It can be learned to a reasonably high level by everyone with a normal functioning brain.

While not everyone will become the world's greatest mathematician - this is where factors like genetics come into play - nevertheless, I believe that it's possible to achieve a pretty decent level with hard work. Be it math or anything else.

But, it's not the hard work itself that matters. That's just one part of it.

It's precisely that other part that decides whether or not you can get good at a math-like subject or not. Whether you'll become stuck forever or pick up new complicated topics like you pick grapes.

Math (and some other subjects) is special because it's a subject that builds on itself. If you don't understand a foundational concept, you will not understand any other concept built on that previous concept. And because you then don't understand those other concepts, you'll not understand the higher ones using that. And so on it goes.

That one thing you did not understand becomes the deciding factor of your understanding of this subject. You'll have a gap in your knowledge, and that gap becomes fatal.

It wouldn't become fatal if the student took a step back, fixed the gap, and moved forward with a new topic. The problem is, most people will try to shrug it off, thinking that it'll just magically click someday. It won't! It will never magically click unless you back and fix the problem.

Coding is the same. I see some people trying to learn a JavaScript framework without having a foundation in JavaScrip itself. It's a recipe for disaster.

It's like trying to study linear algebra before understanding algebra. It doesn't make any sense, and it's a waste of time.

One of the reasons some people (I have been guilty of it) move forward before understanding a previous concept is that, going back seems like a step back in our progress, and we don't want that. We don't like to admit that we're taking a step back in what we thought was a sure step forward. It may also seem like a waste of time. After all, we'd deliberately slow down our progress. So we march on!

An excellent way to check your understanding is through challenges and exercises. Doing exercises after every chapter in a textbook gives pretty good feedback on one's level. If you struggle to solve most of the challenges, it's a sign to re-do the chapter. Simple!

The above is also why I generally avoid study materials that don't have challenges. First of all, the best way to learn is by doing (topic for a future blog post, perhaps), and secondly, I'd have no idea if I've actually got a grasp on the material or not.

I'm sure I've brought my point across by now. So, it's time to wrap up.

The next blog post will be published this Saturday. I promise.

Thank you for reading, and have a great day!

K.

The old man in the sky

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