Math class doesn’t add up for some students

By Cassidy Rush U-WIRE

Boston – Does the mere mention of the word “calculus” make you break a sweat? Do terms like “chain rule,” “differential equation” and “stochastic process” make your heart sink with despair? If so, you may suffer from math anxiety, a common ailment afflicting college students who feel unprepared to tackle the subject.

Organizations and professors alike have acknowledged the condition and are trying to find new ways of treating it.

“Math anxiety is not universal certainly, but yes, I do believe it’s a real thing,” said Tina Straley, executive director of the Mathematical Association of America.

She said the root cause of the anxiety is the rigorous nature of mathematics.

“In mathematics, students feel that they have to perform to a certain standard, that they have to get an answer. For example, it’s not something that’s easy to fudge,” she said.

Professors cited students’ past difficulties with math as a key cause of math anxiety.

“The causes are different for different students,” said Professor Alvard Arazyan, an introductory calculus professor at Boston University. “For some students it’s a poor math background. For some of them, it’s just a difficult experience even though they have a good background.

“For some it’s not just about math but about their busy schedules. But I notice in general that they are really anxious about math in particular.”

To make matters worse, the nature of math – with each lesson dependent on previous ones – makes it difficult, if not impossible, for students who fall behind to catch up.

“If students miss one or two lectures in math, they get completely lost,” Arazyan said. “It’s not like they can catch up like in other subjects.”