Coping With Math Anxiety

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What Is Math Anxiety?

A famous stage actress was once asked if she had ever suffered from stage-fright, and if so how she had gotten over it. She laughed at the interviewer’s naive assumption that, since she was an accomplished actress now, she must not feel that kind of anxiety. She assured him that she had always had stage fright, and that she had never gotten over it. Instead, she had learned to walk on stage and perform—in spite of it.

Like stage fright, math anxiety can be a disabling condition, causing humiliation, resentment, and even panic. Consider these testimonials from a questionnaire we have given to students in the past several years:

  • When I look at a math problem, my mind goes completely blank. I feel stupid, and I can’t remember how to do even the simplest things.
  • I’ve hated math ever since I was nine years old, when my father grounded me for a week because I couldn’t learn my multiplication tables.
  • In math there’s always one right answer, and if you can’t find it you’ve failed. That makes me crazy.
  • Math exams terrify me. My palms get sweaty, I breathe too fast, and often I can’t even make my eyes focus on the paper. It’s worse if I look around, because I’d see everybody else working, and know that I’m the only one who can’t do it.
  • I’ve never been successful in any math class I’ve ever taken. I never understand what the teacher is saying, so my mind just wanders.
  • Some people can do math—not me!

What all of these students are expressing is math anxiety, a feeling of intense frustration or helplessness about one’s ability to do math. What they did not realize is that their feelings about math are common to all of us to some degree. Even the best mathematicians, like the actress mentioned above, are prone to anxiety—even about the very thing they do best and love most.

In this essay we will take a constructive look at math anxiety, its causes, its effects, and at how you as a student can learn to manage this anxiety so that it no longer hinders your study of mathematics. Lastly, we will examine special strategies for studying mathematics, doing homework, and taking exams.

Let us begin by examining some social attitudes towards mathematics that are especially relevant.


  • Wendy Hageman Smith, author
  • B. Sidney Smith, author

Citation Info

  • [MLA] Hageman Smith, Wendy, B. Sidney Smith. "Coping With Math Anxiety." Platonic Realms Minitexts. Platonic Realms, 9 Apr 2014. Web. 9 Apr 2014. <>
  • [APA] Hageman Smith, Wendy, B. Sidney Smith (9 Apr 2014). Coping With Math Anxiety. Retrieved 9 Apr 2014 from Platonic Realms Minitexts:


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