Math Anxiety: Can This Common Barrier Be Overcome?

headshot of Jo Lynn M. Sedgwic
Learning Enhancement Mathematics Instructor Jo Lynn Sedgwick
Does the thought of taking a math test, or even worse, doing a problem at the board in front of the class give you sweaty palms, tunnel vision and make your heart feel as if it’s about to leap out of your chest? If so, then you might have math anxiety. If you have the same feelings of impending doom on tests in other subjects, then you may also have test anxiety. The good news is that both of these common barriers can be overcome.

Math anxiety is an intense fear or sense of dread associated with the subject of math. Humans are not born fearing math. Small children enjoy counting objects and are usually proud to add and subtract out loud. Where does this crippling fear come from then? Usually at some point in life, people with math or test anxiety have a profoundly negative experience associated with math or a test that sticks with them for the rest of their life. Maybe they had a teacher who told them they should give up. Maybe they went to the board, didn’t know how to work the problem and were embarrassed. Maybe no one in their family has ever been good at math, which means that they will never be good in math, right? Wrong.

There is no quick and complete cure for math or test anxiety. While some anxiety can be good, too much is a problem. How can that happy medium be achieved?  With a lot of work, patience and time, the amount of anxiety associated with math or a test should decrease and become helpful rather than hurtful.

Waubonsee Community College has some excellent services to help students succeed at the college. Students can receive free walk-in tutoring services at each of its four campuses for the classes they are enrolled in at the college. In addition, the tutoring centers can work with students on test taking and study skills strategies. There are some basic do’s and don’ts that should always be followed to help lessen math and test anxiety. Don’t miss classes. Missing classes makes students feel unprepared, which adds to the anxiety. Take notes in class and study those notes before starting the homework. Do all of the homework problems assigned. If a problem cannot be worked, use the available resources: the lecture notes, a tutor, the instructor or a free math website.   

Being prepared, seeking help when needed and having the right study skills will allow you to be your own cheerleader when you walk into your math class or test. All of the hard work will allow you to say, “I have done all I can to prepare for this test. I can do this!  Breathe.” Focus on success and do not let negative thoughts of failure creep in. Don’t let math anxiety be the barrier to your success. 

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” –Bill Cosby

Jo Lynn M. Sedgwick is a Learning Enhancement Mathematics Instructor at Waubonsee Community College.