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I grew up HATING math. I dreaded it every day and tried to avoid taking math courses wherever I could. Even during my first semester of college, I struggled through algebra. I just used the study guide the night before the test for last minute studying. I consistently procrastinated and caused myself unnecessary stress. I ended up switching my major to a math-centered subject and had to overcome my phobia. These five brain hacks I learned from reading the book A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., helped me conquer calculus and thoroughly enjoy the class. Amazingly, I’m excited about my future coursework and even favor math slightly over the arts and humanities classes.
Skim the Chapter Before Reading it
It's important to create mental ”hooks” for your memories to begin to form on. Your brain memorizes things in categories in order to organize your long term memory. It acts like a file cabinet and skimming the chapter can provide an initial foundation for the material to build off of.
I recommend doing this before you have your class time over the unit. When you’re skimming the chapter pay attention to the headings, side notes, and review questions. Read through the questions before even attempting any work. Familiarize yourself with the basics of the concept so that you have an idea of what you’re getting into before the lecture.
If you still have no idea what is going on after reading the chapter, google or youtube some examples of how the formula is applied.
Work Through Every Practice Problem
When you're studying, do every practice problem in the book. This will help you understand the different ways problems can be structured and better prepare you for the exam. It will also provide you with more and more information and context on how the problems could be applied to real world situations. The more familiar a concept is to you, the easier it is to battle with and learn.
Don't Write Off Your Mistakes and Always Ask Questions
We all experience shyness and embarrassment over not understanding something. Do not be ashamed to ask for clarification. If you don't understand, ask your professor to go over it again or make use of their office hours. In order to remember what you learn it's important to truly digest the coursework.
Stumble through the harder problems and then use the solutions manual or answer in the back of the book to understand the process. Make sure you comprehend where you went wrong and if you don't, make a note for your professor.
It also helps to buddy up with a classmate and study together. Having someone else to motivate you will make you more successful and also make the class more enjoyable.
Master and Understand Diffuse Mode And Focused Mode
Think of it like this, your brain is usually actively engaged in doing whatever task is at hand. If you’re mowing the lawn or working on a math problem, then you’re utilizing the focused mode in your brain.
Diffuse mode is when you’re relaxing, or doing something that doesn’t require your active attention. You could be sleeping, watching TV, being a couch potato, listening to music, however you unwind. Although you are not focusing on anything, in particular, your brain is still actively solving problems and thinking through things. The brain can calculate how much you need to swerve your wheel to avoid a pothole, or how much time you need to get to your destination. Humans are born to be able to solve math problems. It’s all about utilizing your innate abilities.
How to Use the Modes to Your Advantage
In order to put the modes to work, you have to know when to use each. Focus on your study material with no distractions. Really apply yourself to your study time and work through each problem carefully. Using your focus mode is pretty self-explanatory, just focus.
The diffuse mode is where the magic happens. When you're resting your brain will still be working through the stuff you were studying. Practice working on a problem that's difficult for you right before bed. When you return to it the next morning you may be surprised how quickly the answer comes to you.
Study in Short Intervals
No one wants to slave over a math book for hours on end. If you break up your study time you can use your modes better to your advantage. You will soak in the material while you study and gain better understanding while you rest. Working for about 30 minutes a day, two of three times a day is sufficient.
This will also aid in procrastination because the task is small and easy to complete. Humans avoid painfully boring tasks. Chip away at your homework long before it's due and your brain will have time to truly grasp the concept at hand.
The goal is absorb as much as possible as painless as possible. These tactics can be applied to any subject and make you successful in all areas of life. Utilize your innate problem solving abilities and don't let anything intimidate you. With time and effort, anyone can be experts in anything.
If You’d Like to Know More
If you'd like what you read and believe this could improve your math skills, consider reading the above article. The guide centers on how to become a millionaire with proven, realistic strategies.