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Why Do So Many Students Find Mathematics Difficult?

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Stressed by math

Mathematics is a subject that students either love or hate; there is no in-between. There was probably a time in your life when you disliked the subject or found it difficult.

Gallup (2005) conducted a survey in the United States of America in 2004, where they asked teenagers which subject they find the most difficult. As a result, it was found that 37% of the students find mathematics difficult.

The results of the survey obviously did not come as a surprise. However, Is Mathematics really difficult, or is it just in our heads?

Mathematics is a subject that is very different from the rest. All the topics in this subject are related to each other, which makes it either very easy or very difficult. If your child is struggling with mathematics, that might be due to a number of reasons.

Numerous reasons lead to a student struggling in this subject, from having a weak base in mathematics or just a simple lack of practice. Let’s look at some of the reasons that might be the cause of many students finding mathematics difficult.

1. Lack of Practice:

Mathematics is a subject that requires a lot of practice. It cannot just be learnt or crammed, and it needs to be practised.

Every problem in mathematics is different from the other one; hence it requires practice. There is absolutely no lie in the proverb “Practice makes a man perfect.”

2. Lack of Patience:

When learning and practising mathematics, one should remain calm and very patient. Mathematics is not something that can be learnt in just one go, and you need to practice it over and over again to achieve perfection.

Patience is quite literally the most fundamental thing required when learning mathematics. If you get one problem wrong and get upset over it, you will not be able to achieve what you aim for. Thus, you need to have patience while practising.

3. Short Attention Span:

Some students cannot remain focused for a longer period of time. Solutions to mathematics problems can be of several steps, making the solution long.

As the steps increase, students tend to lose focus and therefore are unable to comprehend the solution. As a result, students complain that they cannot understand it and find the subject very difficult.

4. Weak Foundation:

This is a subject that is linked with its previous concepts. Almost every course or chapter of mathematics has a prerequisite. If you were unable to perform well in that course or chapter, skipped that course or chapter or were simply unable to grasp the concepts of that particular topic.

It results in students encountering problems and difficulties when learning the new concept. Course instructors, parents and the student themselves should make sure that they are able to understand the concept from beginning to end before moving on to the next chapter.

5. Dyscalculia:

Dyscalculia is a math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills (American Psychiatric Association, 2018).

According to researchers, 3-7% of all children, adolescents, and adults suffer from dyscalculia. Although the percentage of students suffering from dyscalculia is less, this factor should not be disregarded. Students suffering from dyscalculia might be performing well in other subjects and only falling behind in mathematics.

One should always keep in mind all the reasons and factors that can contribute to why the student is finding mathematics difficult to understand and learn.

6. Boolean Subject:

Some people refer to mathematics as a Boolean subject. Anything that has only two possibilities is called Boolean. The answer to your mathematics problem is either correct or wrong, and there is absolutely no in-between.

It is a subject where you can score A+ pretty easily if you practice well. But mostly, either students excel in this course or suffer badly. Unlike other subjects, you cannot get grades in mathematics even when your answer is wrong.

In English, you can get marks even when your answer is wrong if you write the correct spelling and use proper grammar. Unfortunately, there is nothing like that in mathematics, you get one equation or calculation wrong, and everything is downhill from there in that question.

It is crucial to keep your eyes and minds open and focus on the problem at hand only.

7. “Mathematics is hard.”

Students are often told that mathematics is very hard. It leaves a bad impression of the subject in the student’s mind which can cause difficulties. We should never tell students that something is difficult and let them figure it out independently. If the student keeps hearing that something is difficult or cannot do good in the subject, they do not even try doing good in it. This actually helps you to learn more about the topic, and you can get answers to the questions you think about in your head.

These and several other reasons can contribute to why students find mathematics very difficult. None of these causes is impossible to solve. Moreover, there are plenty of expert tips on making maths fun, and one must follow them because maths is more than dry calculations and spreadsheets.

If the student gets help from someone competent enough, like a math tutor or senior mate in this subject, they can never find it difficult. Plenty of patience and practice can make anyone a master in mathematics!


Saad, L. (2005). Math Problematic for U.S. Teens. Retrieved from

American Psychiatric Association. (2018). What is Specific Learning Disorder?

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Austin has 10+ years of experience in teaching. He has researched on thousands of students-related topics, issues, and concerns. You will often find him writing about the common concerns of students, their nutrition, and what is beneficial for their academics and health both.