“You’re majoring in math? Are you insane?” Yes, I am majoring in math and yes, I may become insane if one more person questions my choice of major. I love math, and I’ll say it again: I LOVE MATH! I was not always this way though. In fact, throughout high school I hated math. There was nothing I dreaded more than Mr. Baeza’s Pre-Calculus tests, and I can say with certainty that my SAT score in the math portion was a result of lucky guessing. Fast forward to college, and now I’m majoring in math, with Linear Algebra being my favorite class. So, what changed?
Calculus AB my senior year was probably one of the most difficult classes I’d taken my high school career. I hated Pre-Calculus, so I went into the class with a preconceived bad attitude towards it because in general I hated math. My teacher is the reason I changed my mind. He was a negative individual with a dry sense of humor who wore all black every day. He was not afraid to speak his mind and specifically targeted the jocks in the class who thought everyone liked them. For some reason, he was my favorite teacher, and I often looked forward to lectures and wondered who he would make a joke about that day. Then one day he said something to me that changed my perspective of math: “I can tell by your test scores that you enjoy my class. It’s amazing what a positive attitude will do to your grade.” From then on, I tried liking calculus, and the effect it had on my grade was astounding. The more I told myself that I liked calculus, the better my grades became. My grade jumped to an A+, and consequently I actually began to like it. Going into class with a positive attitude helped me understand things better because I was more open to it, and that thought process has stuck with me in college.
Now, while I have a lot of uncertainty about what I want to do with my career, I know for a fact I am going to major in math. There are so many opportunities available with a math major; they are so flexible because the analytical thinking it builds is a skill that is appreciated by graduate school admissions offices as well as prospective employers. Furthermore, the government, specifically the National Security Agency, is the largest employer of mathematicians in the United States, and companies in industry and the private sector are also always looking for people with mathematical skills and problem-solving capabilities. Basically, when it comes to possibilities, the limit does not exist.
As much as I would love for everyone to like math, I understand that some people just are not cut out for it. Taking higher level math classes has shaped the way I solve problems, which in turn makes such classes easier to handle. For many students, though, thinking this way is difficult and in general not something they want to spend time doing. While I understand when people struggle with math, my advice to those who are not doing well in a math class is two things: change your attitude about the class and practice. Going into the class thinking, “I hate this class so much, I just want to leave,” is the worst mentality to have, especially in a math class, because it distracts you from actually learning the material. Try, just try, to go into class with an open mind. Take notes, ask questions if you don’t understand, and do the homework. I will stress it again: ask questions if you don’t understand. If you don’t understand something in lecture, there is no way you’ll magically understand it when the quiz or test rolls around. Lastly, when I advise “practice,” I mean do homework. The best way to study math is to do it over and over. When I studied for my Calculus II final exam, I did close to 100 math problems. I’m not saying do 100 math problems, but this kind of repetition insures that you understand what you’re doing and know how to solve for a solution. To finish, I’ll admit that majoring in math is super nerdy, but thinking I’m insane for liking it is a bit ridiculous. Kevin G would disagree.