How to conquer maths anxiety

by Anita Naik

A recent global survey revealed that UK parents and students are more anxious about maths than anywhere else in the world. If you or your child has negative perceptions of the subject, here's how to conquer your maths anxiety.

Maths anxiety is on the rise in the UK, with research showing half of parents admit to suffering from it, which leads to a spiral of maths avoidance and negative beliefs that can affect children. If you don't consider yourselves a 'maths family', or a 'maths person' here's how to deal with it.

Work on your maths confidence

As many as 47 per cent of parents polled say they believe maths is the most challenging subject, with just one in four thinking they can confidently help with homework questions about algebra, times tables and equations. The good news is maths is a basic skill that we all use every day, from programming our phones to parallel parking, working out our bills and even putting flat pack furniture together. This means that becoming good at maths is something all adults and children can do

To lower your maths anxiety - you and or your child must realise that you are capable of doing maths, which means taking a growth mindset view. Developing a growth mindset involves seeing maths as a subject anyone can learn, instead of a subject that you are either good at or not. It also means understanding that your math abilities can improve with practice and are not limited to factors out of your control.

The next step is to work out where your anxiety is coming from - is it fear of failure, panic around not understanding, something someone once said to you about maths or parents with high levels of maths anxiety? While it's common for students to stress over maths and not believe in their abilities, you can improve your confidence in the subject.

Firstly, embrace asking for help, whether it's from teachers, or tutors peers asking questions and finding different solutions is key to building your confidence in the subject. Working with a maths tutor can be helpful for bespoke one-to-one learning and subject comprehension and, more importantly, confidence.

Secondly, practice as much as you can. Becoming good at maths is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. It requires practice and lots of it. Think of it as building a maths muscle that will gradually get stronger. Maths practice works because to solve maths problems; you need to process many pieces of information simultaneously, so to master this, you need to imbed skills, which takes practice.

Thirdly, embrace making mistakes. We are all fearful of making mistakes; however, errors are essential for critical learning in maths. The brain develops, learns and remembers each time a mistake is made. So making mistakes is a positive as it benefits your maths ability, rather than shows your limitations.

Dealing with maths anxiety as a parent

Are you a parent who dreads having to help with maths homework? If so, you're not alone.

Dr Laura Outhwaite, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Education Policy, University College London, says: "Research shows parents' anxieties around their maths abilities can hinder children's progress in maths and may make them feel anxious. Parents can feel more confident, though, and technology can play an important role. For example, educational maths apps can provide parents with bitesise understandings of their child's maths development, as well as facilitating maths talk and play in everyday experiences."

If you are a parent who didn't have a positive experience with maths at school, it can also help to know that the way maths is taught has evolved tremendously over the years, with research showing that anyone can become a 'maths person.

To help yourself, you could hire a tutor, play more maths games on apps (see below) or check out the many videos on YouTube that aim to explain maths at every level.

Bring maths into everyday life

Another way to limit maths anxiety is regular exposure to maths. Associate maths with more than just school, exams and numbers so you and or your child can see and experience the meaning of maths in everyday life, in shopping, budgeting, planning a trip or even following a recipe.

Research has shown that children who practice maths by playing a game- app improve their skills by 60 per cent. Look for ma Game-Embedded Teaching (GET), which supports maths learning.

Count On Me is a game where children aged 5 - 7 can learn and practice basic maths skills suitable for KS1 and KS2.

Mathematics is an online maths program that helps with KS3 problem-solving and reasoning questions. It can be used at home or at school.

Arc Maths is a brilliant app for GCSE students because it covers material from Key Stage 3 right up to the GCSE level. The app is designed to be used in sessions of around 10 minutes every day, and it will even send you a notification to remind you to do your daily Maths workout!

Maths Brain Booster (maths games for adults) app consists of different training modes to improve brain function and stimulate the mind to improve overall performance. Customise how you want to learn and where you want to start and improve your understanding of maths.

For further reading see our posts - How to build your GCSE maths skills, The benefits of a maths tutor and How to learn maths as an adult