8 Foolproof Tips On How To Actually Be Better At Math

Throughout high school, there was one thing that put me in a constant, torturous state of personal anguish. It wasn’t boy drama. It wasn’t friend drama.  It was, instead, math class. I loved reading and writing (which my grades reflected) but dreaded every single second that I had to spend thinking, talking about, and doing math (which, to no one’s surprise, my grades also reflected). If math was my last period, I’d spend all day dreading it. If math was my first period, I’d always try to fake sick to get out of it. Often, I would cry in the math stairwell after geometry class, so convinced was I that I would never actually get it.

Of course, my experience was not an isolated one. My personal aversion to math was probably a little on the extreme side, sure, but there are a number of psychological and sociological reasons that contribute to girls, as a whole, feeling disenfranchised by the STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field as a whole. Girls are often taught that they lack the perception skills that are necessary for learning math, while guys are told that they have these skills, which puts girls at a disadvantage before even stepping into the classroom.

So, statistically, math is probably something that you’re not all that wild about, either. The good news? First of all, while changing the misogynistic underpinnings of the math and science field yourself might be a little difficult, there are some things you can do to change things for yourself. Also, despite all of my personal torment, I did pass math, which means that you definitely can too. Just check out these easy(ish) ways to get better grades in math:

Go To Class (And Actually Be *Present* In Class)

I mean, duh. Hopefully you're already doing this. Actually showing up to class is important for all academic subjects, but particularly so for math, since math classes tend to build upon concepts from one to the next. This means if you miss one day of class, it's basically the equivalent of taking out an entire rung in a ladder--you can still make it to the top, but it gets harder and harder with each rung that gets taken away. So, go to class! Otherwise, you'll be missing out on vital information that'll make it harder to get good grades on your tests. (Also, teachers usually give some sort of participation grade--by skipping class, you're basically throwing away about five percent of your grade.)

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Focus On Topics You Don't Understand Before Moving To The Next 

This is annoying, because if you don't like one particular topic (say, fractions), you probably want to move onto the next one ASAP to escape. But, unfortunately, fractions never actually go away. The ladder analogy from before--in which each concept you learn in math builds upon the previous one-applies here too, so it's really important to actually understand one thing before you try to tackle the next. If you don't, you'll probably feel even more lost in the next unit.

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Get Used To Working By The Clock

One of the scariest things of taking a math exam is knowing that you have a limited amount of time to do it. So, practice working under the amount of time that you'll be allotted when you take a test--like, say, if you know you'll have forty minutes for a twenty-question test, practice spending two minutes on each question. This way, knowing that you have to answer a certain amount of questions in a certain amount of time won't be as daunting as it could be.

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Make A Mathematical Dictionary

"Vocabulary" probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your math class, but math classes have a lot of important terminology that you need to keep straight. So, write down problems and phrases your teacher mentions in class, their meanings, key points and sample answers on flash cards or in a blank notebook. Writing stuff down is a great way to get in logged in your brain, first of all, and having a physical item to refer to when you're studying can be super helpful.

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Write Down Your Work 

Don't try to work out the answer in your head before you write it down. Instead, write everything down. Why? First of all, writing things down helps you organize your thoughts and actually map everything out, rather than trying to tread water in your head to try and reach an answer. Plus, teachers sometimes give partial credit if they see you know how to do the formulas and have the right idea about something, even if you got the wrong answer. Other, less charitable teachers will subtract points if you have the right answer but don't write down your work. So, uh, write everything down, just to be safe.

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Devote Time To Studying Every Night

Studying for a test is something that, like showing up for class, should be a "duh." But a lot of the time, it's easier said than done, since it can feel like such a big, insurmountable endeavor that you don't even know where to start. So, try to make studying something you do every day, rather than waiting to cram in the night before an exam. When you're doing your homework (which, you know, you need to be doing), work through every single problem and cross check it with your textbook and notes to make sure you're doing it right. If you don't get certain concepts, go through them again until you get it (and, again, don't be afraid to ask for help on this). This way, you'll have a sturdy enough base so that you don't have to do a panicky all-nighter the night before a test.

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Use Outside Resources

If your textbook isn't enough, you have a lot of other (free!) options to work with online. SOSMath is a great site that has review guide for Algebra, Calculus, Differential Equations, and a bunch of others. WebMath is a site that allows you to input any equation and get a solution and detailed explanation as to how to get there. And if you need help with reviewing for the SAT or ACT, you can check out MathPlanet, which has practice questions for each type of standardized test.

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Get Help If You Need It

There is no shame--none whatsoever!--in having to get a little extra help in a subject in which you do not particularly excel. Tutors saved my butt many, many times over in college and high school, since they helped me recognize concepts that I didn't even know that I didn't fully understand. So, if you're in high school, try to see your teachers after class. Many of them stay after school anyway and will be happy to help go over the lesson with you--plus, they'll see that you're showing up to get extra help, which can only positively impact your grade. If you need help on top of that (which I definitely did in high school), you can ask them for tutor recommendations--most teachers should know of a few relatively inexpensive tutors to go to. And, if you're in college, chances are good that your school already has a tutoring service with grad students or upper-level math majors.

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Is math hard for you too? What’s your favorite subject? Let us know in the comments!

You can reach the author, Sara Hendricks, on Twitter and Instagram.

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