Three Tips to Improve Math Skills (and your everyday life)

Who knew that what you learn in math class can actually be useful?


Aaron Little, Guest Writer

Math, as we all know, can be a right pain in the butt. From simple elementary arithmetic to complex algebra and calculus — where there are more letters than numbers — math poses considerable challenges to children, adolescents, and adults alike. It is no different at Ludlow High. 


To the surprise of absolutely nobody, math is supposed to be difficult. In fact, its naturally ambiguous nature is what drives learning in the first place. “Students only learn when they struggle with the mathematics,” says Gerald Martin, who has been teaching math for thirty years and at Ludlow High since 2012. “Always take a step back and remember that the basics serve you well.”


However, there is something beautiful in the way that we go about tackling different mathematical problems. Indeed, math is, in essence, its own language, interpreted in different ways. For instance, two people may use two completely different methods to solve a problem and still arrive at the same answer, not unlike how one can say “hello” in hundreds of different said and unsaid languages. 

As a high school student currently fighting my way through Martin’s junior-year pre-calculus class, I have had my fair share of struggles. Here are three tips that I have learned this past school year to make math class — and my life — a little bit easier.


#1: Do Not Try to Understand Everything Right Away

This is probably the biggest lesson that I have learned from over a decade of monotonous math classes in the Ludlow school district. 


When we first started going over algebra, I had a difficult time understanding how a letter could equate to a number. It just did not make sense.


The light bulb moment for me was when I simply accepted the fact that “x” act

ually was a number. I did not try to understand why, I just adopted the “it is what it is” mentality.


Ironically enough, by just flat-out conceding that “x” actually represents a numerical value I was able to make the connection between the two. I no longer got hung up on how “x” could equal six. It just simply did.


“Just try whatever you think,” says Ryan Cruz, an LHS senior taking AP Statistics and Honors Pre-calculus this year. “It’s better to have something than nothing, so just try and don’t get held up.”

I still use this lesson today in my schooling, my sports, and my life. I find that “it is what it is” fits perfectly into almost any situation in which I am becoming flustered.


Say I get called for a bogus foul in a basketball game. Getting angry would likely make the situation worse for myself and my team. Instead, if I just embrace the call, I am putting myself in a better position to succeed.


Getting all frazzled and worked-up causes more harm than good. Usually, if we just go with the flow, important points are easier to identify in hindsight — and, more importantly, the path to success becomes clearer. 


If you are struggling to understand something new, make sure that you are not trying to digest everything all at once. To add to the many cliches in this section, they did not build Rome in a day, so give yourself a break. Figure out the “why” later if need be.



#2: Find Patterns

Patterns are everywhere. They are intertwined into everything we see, touch, hear, yadda, yadda, yadda … you get the point. They are everywhere, including in math.



“Mathematics is all about finding the patterns,” Martin explains. “It is why I suggest playing a game of SET each morning, to wake up that part of your brain. Even word games like Wordle serve that purpose.”

In fact, math is pretty much all patterns. For example, multiplication is just repeated addition. By breaking up a problem into patterns it becomes easier to comprehend.


Take the basic expression of 3 x 6.


3 x 6 is equal to 3 added six times, or 3+3+3+3+3+3, which equals 18. It is simple patterns like this that can help one understand different math concepts of varying degrees of difficulty.


Finding patterns does not only apply to the mathematical realm, however. Patterns are the fundamental way that we, as humans, make sense of the world around us, hence the reason why they are so appealing to the eye.


Language, music, people: patterns play a massive role in the way we view the world. A commonly-used pattern is a daily routine, which helps to take the guesswork out of your day and leaves you more energy to focus on more important things.


Like in math, breaking up your days into patterns can help make your life just that much more enjoyable.


#3: Track Your Progress (and reward yourself periodically)

I am willing to bet that you have been told to catalog your progress before.



However, based on personal experience, I am sure that you went through a similar process as I did: write down a couple of entries into a notebook, forget about it within a week, and ultimately end up exactly where you began.



Unfortunately, people lose sight of how beneficial tracking their progress is, not only in the classroom but in their jobs, homes, and themselves.


For example, by keeping all of my math quizzes from past years, I have a running model that shows how my math skills grew over the course of my sophomore year. It is gratifying to look at; I know how much work I put into studying and making sure I understood the material. It fuels me to continue my scholarly habits in my current senior-year classes.


It may also be beneficial to break assignments and lessons into chunks. 


“If I don’t understand something I try understanding it piece by piece,” says Emre Karaarslan, another fellow senior classmate of mine who is taking AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics this year. “If I skip something without completely understanding it I feel like I will be lost in later sections.”


In short, seeing how my math skills grew from month to month gave me the desire to continue improving, as well as keeping me organized and on track to succeed.


Now imagine if we applied this to everything we do.


If you want to adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can track your weight from week to week. Providing you take the necessary steps, you should see small victories weekly in the form of decreasing numbers (even though what you see in the mirror is what really matters — the scale can be deceiving).


From there, you can set a goal. When you reach that goal you can reward yourself with a cheat day to commemorate your hard work.


By logging your progress, you begin to notice the little victories more. We have all been told to “enjoy the little things in life,” but sometimes they get overshadowed by bigger, more pressing matters. And that’s OK — take a breather once in a while to appreciate how far you have come in anything that you do.


The Bottom Line

Math, although effectively made redundant by smartphone calculators in every profession outside of the financial and STEM fields, provides us with some important life skills and lessons to incorporate into our routines.


Problem-solving, critical thinking, conditioning to do the same monotonous, unfulfilling job for the majority of your life (yikes): math plays an integral role in our ever-changing world.


As a teenager, I always wonder how any of the things I learn at LHS, like exponential equations and centrifugal force, can possibly help me in adulthood. I am sure most of you share in my skepticism.


Maybe all we need to do is take a step back, make some connections, and enjoy the small nuances that life has to offer.