Dealing with math trauma – Don’t let timed tests form your math identity

Math trauma manifests as anxiety or dread, a debilitating fear of being wrong. This fear limits access to life paths for many people, including school and career choices.

But research has confirmed what many people share with me anecdotally: Tying speed with computation debilitates learners. People who struggle to complete a timed test of math facts often experience fear, which shuts down their working memory. This makes it all but impossible to think which reinforces the idea that a person just can’t do math – that they are not a math person.

I am frequently told by people that they do not have a maths brain, could never learn maths, that they are not a maths person. I have had middle-aged women tell me of formative experiences that happened over fifty years previously that have shaped their relationship with mathematics. Recently I asked my Facebook friends both mathematically inclined and not so mathematically inclined about how they picture numbers. Time and again their responses included the statement that they are not good at maths.

Your life, and being able to function, revolves around math, and if we are losing students because of timed tests, then the timed tests need to go. For all of the grief common core gets, its emphasis on knowing the why in math was very powerful. Until that point, a lot of student education was focused on 2 times 2 equals 4, not why 2 times 2 equals 4.