Even expert physicists get scared of math. Here’s how to overcome the phobia.

Last week we discussed why your aversion to math is just in your head, and gave tips on how to overcome the cynicism.

It turns out, even physicists are turned off by complex math equations (which are a huge part of their job): Behavioral scientists confirmed in a new study that even for professionals whose math skills are sharp enough to make a living off of, big numbers can still be scary:

The researchers found a significant inverse correlation between the number of equations in a given article and the likelihood that it would be referenced by other physicists in their own articles (an indicator of how well read a particular article might be).

The problem is not limited to the field of physics, either, say Fawcett and Higginson, who earlier arrived at a similar conclusion about math-heavy papers in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. The authors claim that in order to avoid being avoided, authors of academic papers need to cut down on the equations and try to get their ideas across in simpler language.

Conquering math doesn’t mean you have to jump at every intimidating problem on the blackboard. It’s about taking that impulsive, irrational (pun intended) fear of numbers and saying, “what the heck,” and giving it a try.

However, the study shows that maybe the onus isn’t always on the student to tackle complex math:

Ultimately, say the authors, it’s up to the scholars themselves to do better at communicating their work, even to an audience of their peers.

As the scientists behind the study note, the substance of a piece of work doesn’t determine its entire worth: it’s the presentation that also determines how people receive it.

Teachers are put in a tough position here. They have a set curriculum to follow and face strict benchmarks and guidelines to bring students with varying skill levels up to par. Making a lesson plan on the quadratic equation into something relevant to a high school student is no small task.

That’s where different styles of teaching and individualized attention come into play. For intimidating subjects such as math, physics or chemistry, homework can be a daunting task. Today’s students find themselves using their smartphones as distractions to the dry material in their textbook.

With tutoring apps like Yup, one-to-one learning becomes a fresh way to get through tough problems. World-class tutors help students see efficient ways around homework while understanding the concepts from the curricula.

Also, the chat-based interface creates a familiar mode of discussion with students who otherwise wouldn’t benefit from a stressful or intimidating classroom environment. Form and function come together to open a new world to kids with math phobia.

So if you or anyone you know has a phobia of math, just remember that it happens to the pros; sometimes you just have to see the problem in a new way. 

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