8 unexpected reasons why math is so hard (2023)

Like many students, I had a hard time with math class. I didn’t consider myself a “math person” and after I failed (or barely passed) most of my high school math classes, I figured that I would never do anything in my life involving math.

Unfortunately, most of the highest paying jobs and the jobs with highest satisfaction all require at least skills you learn in typical high school math classes. At the very least, the highest pay jobs expect you to have a mind geared towards working on quantitative problems—the type of problems that are easier to solve if you have a good grasp of basic math concepts.

Because I didn’t have a mind for any math concepts, I actually didn’t think I’d be able to do much. However, I did some hard work digging into why math was so difficult for me, and in figuring out why it was hard for me, I also figured out why most students struggle with math.


Now I have a Bachelors’s degree in physics, a minor in mathematics, and several students under my belt that I’ve tutored in every high school math course there is, all the way from basic geometry to trigonometry to advanced calculus. Along the way, I’ve not only had to identify and handle my own limiting beliefs, but I’ve had to do the same thing with my students.

The following is a list of reasons why students typically think that math is so hard and what works best to resolve those difficulties. If you’ve ever wondered why math is so confusing or difficult, then you’ll find your answer here and some suggestions make it easier and more enjoyable

You think it’s supposed to be hard

Because everyone who’s taken a math class before you and struggled, you think this will be your fate as well.

(Video) The Hardest Math Test

This can be especially crippling for students with low self-esteem and self-confidence. Either they hear it from students they think are brighter than them or they hear it from students they feel marginally superior to but still place themselves in the same general category of ability.

Math is terribly taught

I remember once I was working with a group of tutors who were former math teachers. They couldn’t explain why multiplying 2 negative numbers makes a positive.

They had merely been teaching kids to memorize this. This means that they themselves didn’t understand the math behind it.

Most basic math teachers (especially the type of teachers you have in elementary school and middle school) were not mathematics majors. Instead, they got a teaching degree, took some continuing education to specialize in teaching math, and got placed into the position of teaching math.

While teaching is a skill and all educators are valuable, there are a lot of teachers ruining the hopes of their students ever understanding math concepts because they didn’t study them before teaching.

Check my other articles about math

You believe the myth of a “math person”

There is no such thing as a “math person”. There are simply people who stuck with math long enough to see progress or initially got so much joy out of problem-solvingthat they eventually became good at it.

There is also a case of people who don’t mind that they don’t seem to have any natural gifts. But there are no people of normal intelligence who are incapable of learning math.

(Video) Math isn't hard, it's a language | Randy Palisoc | TEDxManhattanBeach

Sure, there are some people who have a natural talent and predisposition to math. They pick up the problems faster and the math relationships just naturally make sense to them. However, these people are mostly the exception. Most people have to work hard and study to develop any mathematical ability.

Your foundation is bad

Math is cumulative.

You need trigonometry to do calculus. You need algebra and geometry to do trigonometry.

It’s not enough to just pass these classes with a C. It’s actually not good enough to pass these classes with any grade, even if It’s A+. You need to actually understand the subject otherwise, you’re going to be in trouble when you take the next level.

You’ll be behind because you won’t have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to perform at the level of math that you’re taking. This will not only frustrate you, but it will make you believe that math is more difficult than it really is. The real issue is that you never took the time to become strong in your previous math classes.

The more difficult problems you face in math and the more new topics tackle, the more this weakness will shine through.

[Learning math is important because it lays a foundation that makes it easier for you to learn other things. To learn the other 11 reasons why math is important, check out my list here.]

(Video) Five Reasons You are Not Doing Well in Math - And the Fourth One will SURPRISE YOU😲

You try to rely on memorization

Many people find math difficult because they try to memorize their way through the material. However, there isn’t very much to remember. Math is about finding the relationship between things and problem-solving.

Working through practice problems makes you better at solving math problems, but only if you take the time to understand the mechanics and intricacies of a solution. Practice problems are great, but if you memorize how to do them without actually understanding how to arrive at a solution, you will be unhappily surprised when you encounter a problem that looks different from the one you solved before.

This is the reason students hate world problems. Word problems force you to use your math skills in a way that is different from how problems are normally presented to you. If you’ve relied on memorization to get you through your math education, then word problems will give you a fit, as will many other real-world applications of math.

You don’t know how to use basic concepts in the real world

Everyone should know some basic math concepts, but many people skip over them. For example, most people have a hard time working with fractions. However, fractions show up in numerous places inside the real world.

A fraction seems mysterious until you remember that it’s nothing more than a simple case of a division problem and a special case of a multiplication problem. The inability to make rough estimates is also a problem for people who find math difficult.

Estimation is important because most things in life aren’t exactly known, nor do they need to be. However, estimating how much something costs or how long a trip will take is often the difference between an avoidable headache and an inescapable nightmare.

You have dyscalculia or dyslexia

Dyscalculia is a learning difficultythat causes students to struggle with math at many levels. Anything related to formulas, shapes, and the comparison of relationships between spaces and quantities will give a student with dyscalculia trouble. This makes it difficult for them to solve basic and abstract math problems. These students usually fall far behind other math students at their grade level.

(Video) The Simplest Math Problem No One Can Solve - Collatz Conjecture

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Students with dyslexia will have serious problems working with word problems.

Both of these conditions are considered learning disabilities and should be diagnosed and treated if you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from them. They can not only affect a student in school, but can give them difficulties in their daily life as well.

You just don’t like math

Look, I get it.

For whatever reason, you hate math. You dread the start of every school year where you’re given near worksheets and problems to tackle. It simultaneously gives you “math anger” and “math anxiety.”

However, I always remind people that how they feel about something is no excuse for doing poorly at it. Not to mention, if you put just a little effort into improving your mathematical ability, you might come to like it. We tend to enjoy things that we’re good at. At the very least, we hate doing things we’re bad at.

Don’t try to change your feelings about math. Instead, embrace that you think math is stupid and you hate it. Then beat the crap out of it.

If the subject is so stupid and you hate it, the easiest way to improve your life is to become better at it. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll hate it just as much as you now. However, you’ll find that you’ll dislike it a little less as you become a little better.

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A recap of the 8 reasons you think math is so hard

  1. You think it’s supposed to be hard
  2. Math is terribly taught
  3. You believe the myth of a “math person”
  4. Your foundation is bad
  5. You try to rely on memorization
  6. You don’t know how to use basic concepts in the real world
  7. You have dyscalculia or dyslexia
  8. You just don’t like math

Math skills are just a tool to make your life a little easier. Calculators just solve computation problems, but understanding the relationships between things is the core of mathematics. Most people give up honing their math skills because they had a few bad experiences in school, most of which are listed here.

If you see yourself on this list, now you know why math seems so hard, and you can do something about it.

The rest is up to you.

Check my other articles about math


Why is math so unnecessarily hard? ›

Because math involves using plenty of multi-step processes to solve problems, being able to master it takes a lot more practice than other subjects. Having to repeat a process over and over again can quickly bore some children and this may make them become impatient with math.

Why is 7th grade math so hard? ›

Seventh grade is a challenging year for many reasons. Socially, students are in the heart of middle school and all of the drama that it brings. In many subjects, the work gets harder too! In math, concepts begin to jump from concrete to more abstract, making 7th grade algebra a challenging course for many students.

What is the hardest thing in math? ›

Today's mathematicians would probably agree that the Riemann Hypothesis is the most significant open problem in all of math. It's one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems, with $1 million reward for its solution.

Why is math so frustrating? ›

The Reason: It Requires Making a Lot of Mistakes

In order to learn, math requires making a lot of mistakes. Students have to repeat the same types of questions over and over again until they get the right answers—and it can get frustrating.

What are the 7 hardest math problems? ›

Clay “to increase and disseminate mathematical knowledge.” The seven problems, which were announced in 2000, are the Riemann hypothesis, P versus NP problem, Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture, Hodge conjecture, Navier-Stokes equation, Yang-Mills theory, and Poincaré conjecture.

Is Grade 12 math hard? ›

It's no secret; Grade 12 Calculus is a challenging course. Many students struggle because they are learning new and complicated concepts they've never seen before. If you plan on taking calculus, here are some tips to help you prepare for your journey ahead.

Is Grade 7 or 8 harder? ›

Seventh grade is a little bit easier than 8th grade because is more of an introduction into middle school, so they aren't required to do as much work as 8th graders. The 8th graders are preparing for high school, so we have to do more to be ready for all of the work that high school will make us do.

What is the hardest grade for kids? ›

Are you aware that the transition from second to third grade is often considered to be one of the most difficult years in your child's education? Most educators are aware of this big leap, but many parents may not be.

How old are most 7th graders? ›

The seventh grade is the eighth school year, the second or third year of middle school, and the first year of junior high school. Students are around 12-13 years old in this stage of education.

What are the 6 hardest math problems? ›

Millennium Prize Problems
  • Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture.
  • Hodge conjecture.
  • Navier–Stokes existence and smoothness.
  • P versus NP.
  • Riemann hypothesis.
  • Yang–Mills existence and mass gap.

Has 3X 1 been solved? ›

After that, the 3X + 1 problem has appeared in various forms. It is one of the most infamous unsolved puzzles in the word. Prizes have been offered for its solution for more than forty years, but no one has completely and successfully solved it [5].

What is the hardest math in high school? ›

What is the Hardest Math Class in High School? In most cases, you'll find that AP Calculus BC or IB Math HL is the most difficult math course your school offers. Note that AP Calculus BC covers the material in AP Calculus AB but also continues the curriculum, addressing more challenging and advanced concepts.

Is it normal to cry over math? ›

Tears or anger: Tears or anger might signal anxiety, especially if they appear only during math. Students with math anxiety tend to be very hard on themselves and work under the harmful and false assumption that being good at math means getting correct answers quickly. These beliefs and thoughts are quite crippling.

How many percent of people hate school? ›

A recent survey of 1,000 parents with school-aged kids (K–12) found that 80 percent say their children either dislike school or are bored at school.

Does math make life easier? ›

Math helps us have better problem-solving skills.

Math helps us think analytically and have better reasoning abilities. Analytical thinking refers to the ability to think critically about the world around us. Reasoning is our ability to think logically about a situation.

What's the answer to x3 y3 z3 K? ›

The equation x3+y3+z3=k is known as the sum of cubes problem. For decades, a math puzzle has stumped the smartest mathematicians in the world. x3+y3+z3=k, with k being all the numbers from one to 100, is a Diophantine equation that's sometimes known as "summing of three cubes." ∴ The required result will be 3xyz.

What is the 1 million dollar math problem? ›

The Riemann hypothesis – an unsolved problem in pure mathematics, the solution of which would have major implications in number theory and encryption – is one of the seven $1 million Millennium Prize Problems. First proposed by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, the hypothesis relates to the distribution of prime numbers.

What is 3x 1 answer? ›

In the 3x+1 problem, no matter what number you start with, you will always eventually reach 1. problem has been shown to be a computationally unsolvable problem.

What math do most 11th graders take? ›

What Math Should an 11th Grader Know? Typically, students in grade 11 take Algebra II (if they followed the traditional course sequence: Algebra I in 9th grade, and Geometry in 10th grade). However, some students may be able to take Algebra I while still in 8th grade.

Is Grade 10 hard? ›

Grade 10 is an important transition year. You are required to do fewer subjects but the workload and difficulty of the subjects that you keep often increases. Sometimes, students who have done well in grade 8 and 9 struggle in grade 10 due to the increased difficulty.

What is the easiest math in high school? ›

Which math classes are the easiest? According to a large group of high-schoolers, the easiest math class is Algebra 1. That is the reason why most of the students in their freshman year end up taking Algebra 1. Following Algebra 1, Geometry is the second easiest math course in high school.

Is 70 good in 7th grade? ›

C - this is a grade that rests right in the middle. C is anywhere between 70% and 79% D - this is still a passing grade, and it's between 59% and 69% F - this is a failing grade.

Can 8th grade be fail? ›

Under Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE) the government does not fail any students of Class 1 to 8.

What are the hardest school years? ›

While each year of high school will have its own stressors, many will say junior year is the most challenging. Junior year can be the hardest for several reasons, but with the right prep and expectations, high school students can make the hardest year just a little easier.

What is the most failing grade? ›

Traditionally, the grades are A+, A, A−, B+, B, B−, C+, C, C−, D+, D, D− and F, with A+ being the highest and F being lowest.

Does F exist in grades? ›

A majority of schools in the United States, particularly beyond primary age, give grades of A, B, C, D, or F.

What grade is a 13 years old? ›

Year / Grade Placement
AgeUK YearsUS/International Grades
11 - 12Year 76th Grade
12 - 13Year 87th Grade
13 - 14Year 98th Grade
14 - 15Year 109th Grade (Freshman)
10 more rows

How old are 7th graders in Japan? ›

School levels
AgeGradeEducational establishments
11-126Elementary school (小学校 shōgakkō) Compulsory Education
12-131 (7th)Junior high school/Lower secondary school (中学校 chūgakkō) Compulsory Education
13-142 (8th)
14-153 (9th)
17 more rows

How old is a 12th grader? ›

It can be called the class of seniors or the last class of the school. People in the twelfth grade are between the ages of 17 and 18.

What is the hardest math problem nobody can solve? ›

Riemann Hypothesis

It's so difficult that it's become the ultimate math problem, and it's also one of the Millennium Prize Problems with a $1 million prize for solving it.

What math problem Cannot be solved? ›

The Collatz Conjecture is the simplest math problem no one can solve — it is easy enough for almost anyone to understand but notoriously difficult to solve.

What are the common math difficulties? ›

Being chronically early or late. Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Inability to visualize; appearing absentminded or lost in thought. Difficulty remembering math facts, concepts, rules, formulas, sequences, and procedures.

What is the oldest unanswered math problem? ›

But he doesn't feel bad: The problem that captivated him, called the odd perfect number conjecture, has been around for more than 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics.

What is the biggest math equation ever? ›

What is the world's longest equation? Answer – The Boolean Pythagorean Triples issue was initially introduced in the 1980s by California-based mathematician Ronald Graham is the longest arithmetic equation, according to Sciencealert, and includes roughly 200 gigabytes of text.

What is 3x 1 called? ›

The 3x+1 problem, also known as the Collatz problem, the Syracuse problem, Kakutani's problem, Hasse's algorithm, and Ulam's problem, concerns the behavior of the iterates of the function which takes odd integers n to 3n+1 and even integers n to n/2.

What country is #1 in math? ›

Which country is the smartest in math? According to an international benchmarking study, Singapore ranked as the #1 country to have students performing their best in Mathematics and Science.

How hard is Math 55? ›

Math 55 is difficult and it is purposefully structured that way as it's meant to help students mature as mathematicians rather than as simple course takers. But more importantly, “it's just not true that Math 55 is at the level of a graduate class,” Auroux said.

Is Math 55 real? ›

Math 55 is a two-semester long first-year undergraduate mathematics course at Harvard University, founded by Lynn Loomis and Shlomo Sternberg. The official titles of the course are Honors Abstract Algebra (Math 55a) and Honors Real and Complex Analysis (Math 55b).

At what age does math anxiety start? ›

However, recent research has shown that some children as young as 6 years old say that they feel anxious about math.

What is math trauma? ›

What is Math Trauma? This condition can occur when a student has a negative experience in math class - such as feeling humiliated or getting a bad grade - which leads to a fear of mathematics. Math anxiety can cause students to avoid math altogether, leading to further setbacks.

What does math anxiety look like? ›

Not studying regularly. Putting off Math homework until the last minute. Panic when doing Math homework or tests. Difficulty remembering Math facts.

Is 98% of school a waste? ›

some things that were useful immediately and some things that were not useful until years after they were learned. What we learn from our everyday interactions is just as important as what we learn in a classroom. Looking at it from that perspective – it is NOT true that 98% of what we learn is a waste.

Why is nail polish not allowed in school? ›

They can cause harm to others in eg PE games or drama practical work. These are situations which are easily avoided. If a student comes to school wearing nail varnish, they will be asked by their tutor or their year team to remove it immediately with nail polish remover.

What causes kids to hate school? ›

Some of the most common reasons kids hate school range from anxiety and learning difficulties to bullying.

How hard is math really? ›

Mathematics is often considered to be one of the most challenging subjects for students. Recent surveys report that 37% of teens aged 13-17 found math to be harder than other subjects – the highest ranked overall.

What is the hardest thing to do in math? ›

Today's mathematicians would probably agree that the Riemann Hypothesis is the most significant open problem in all of math. It's one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems, with $1 million reward for its solution.

Is it normal to have a hard time at math? ›

Lots of kids struggle with math. But if your child's math troubles are serious and don't seem to get better, they may be a sign of something called dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning disability that makes it hard for kids to understand, learn and do math. Boys and girls are equally likely to have dyscalculia.

Why no matter how hard I try I can't understand math? ›

What is dyscalculia? Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a person's ability to understand number-based information and math. People who have dyscalculia struggle with numbers and math because their brains don't process math-related concepts like the brains of people without this disorder.

What percent of students hate math? ›

The same survey found that 24 percent of kids hate or dislike math and another 30 percent were indifferent to math.

What are the signs of dyscalculia? ›

Typical symptoms include:
  • difficulty counting backwards.
  • difficulty remembering 'basic' facts.
  • slow to perform calculations.
  • weak mental arithmetic skills.
  • a poor sense of numbers & estimation.
  • Difficulty in understanding place value.
  • Addition is often the default operation.
  • High levels of mathematics anxiety.

Is it normal to find math hard? ›

Mathematics is often considered to be one of the most challenging subjects for students. Recent surveys report that 37% of teens aged 13-17 found math to be harder than other subjects – the highest ranked overall.

Why is math easy for some but hard for others? ›

The thing that makes math difficult for many students is that it takes patience and persistence. For many students, math is not something that comes intuitively or automatically - it takes plenty of effort. It is a subject that sometimes requires students to devote lots and lots of time and energy.

How do you study for math when you know nothing? ›

  1. Just Relax. I know remaining calm before the exam when you did not study at all is quite impossible. ...
  2. Set a Goal. ...
  3. Find a Quiet Spot. ...
  4. Gather your Study Material. ...
  5. Stay Away from Distraction. ...
  6. Don't Learn Anything New. ...
  7. Look Over Your Class Notes. ...
  8. Try to Understand the Formulas.

How many kids fail math every year? ›

California's New Diversity Math Curriculum Will Fail 6 Million Kids Annually | Hoover Institution California's New Diversity Math Curriculum Will Fail 6 Million Kids Annually.

How often do people fail math? ›

According to the most recent data, 71 percent of high school students failed geometry exams in June, and 68 percent flunked Algebra 1 finals. Exam failure rates for honors-level math courses were lower but still significant: 32 percent for geometry and 28 percent for Algebra 2.

Can you be naturally bad at math? ›

There are different degrees of skills in any area. So, there are people truly naturally bad at Maths.

Is dyscalculia caused by ADHD? ›

People sometimes call it math dyslexia, but this can be confusing because dyscalculia is a different condition. It can be associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- up to 60% of people who have ADHD also have a learning disorder. It also tends to run in families.

What can be mistaken for dyscalculia? ›

Learning disabilities specifically related to math are called dyscalculia. Signs include difficulty recongnizing patterns or telling time, and they are often mistaken for ADHD.

What triggers dyscalculia? ›

Here are two possible causes of dyscalculia: Genes and heredity: Dyscalculia tends to run in families. Research shows that genetics may also play a part in problems with math. Brain development: Brain imaging studies have shown some differences between people with and without dyscalculia.

What is the hardest grade to teach? ›

Standardized Testing May Cause Grades 3 and Up to Be the Hardest Elementary Grades to Teach. Many educators argue that the hardest elementary grade to teach is one with standardized testing pressures.

What is the most failed subject in school? ›

What is the most failed subject? Algebra is the single most failed course in high school, the most failed course in community college, and, along with English language for nonnative speakers, the single biggest academic reason that community colleges have a high dropout rate.

What is the hated subject in school? ›

Several other studies suggest that mathematics has the dubious honor of being the least popular subject in the curriculum." In one survey of high-school seniors, investigators found that 12% had never taken any algebra or geometry, 26% had dropped mathematics after only one year, 30% had dropped it after two.


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