I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly good at math, and if you’ve been reading here for a while you probably know I’m sometimes prone to over-exaggeration—although I swear to GOD the spider I found on our bathroom wall two nights ago was the size of a fucking Airstream, I actually saw visible biceps on each of its trillion horrifying legs—but I promise that my math deficiency is exactly as described, which is why I break out in a cold sweat when I hear the term “solve for X” (X? What? Now we’re involving letters? And all of a sudden this is a murder mystery and I have to be a detective and shit?).

It turns out that if you follow a career path that mostly has to do with words, you can get by with very few math skills. Sure, there will be the occasional moment when you’re having lunch with friends and the bill comes and you’ll have to throw yourself to the ground and fake a seizure to avoid enduring the humiliating public process of mentally calculating what you owe (pro tip: for authenticity, weakly push your wallet in someone’s direction and beg them to “just take some cash”, while simultaneously urinating in your pants), but overall I’ve had great success in avoiding math for many years now.

Let me clarify that it’s not that I hate math, although I certainly hated the busywork involved with it when I was a kid (I have particularly bad memories of endless chapters of long division problems, one after another, with the dreaded SHOW YOUR WORK command on every page); it’s really that I never learned math for shit. I barely know the basics, and anything approaching an algebraic concept has long been forgotten.

I have a long math-road ahead of me in school, obviously. I’ve thought about trying to self-learn enough to test into pre-algebra, but I think I’ll probably end up taking one of the “So You’re Kind of a Math Dipshit” courses that, on the flow chart of prerequisites, doesn’t even COUNT for anything other than allowing you entry into the next class, “So You’re An Average Math Dipshit, Unless You Don’t Know What ‘Average’ Means, In Which Case Go Take That Other Class Again For Chrissakes”.

I joke about this being one of the areas in which I am almost painfully stupid, but really, it’s never bothered me overmuch. Until last night, that is.

The nutrition class I’m taking (which is awesome, by the way, I’m really enjoying it so far. The instructor is a highly opinionated naturopathic doctor from Bastyr, so it’s interesting to get his take on things like the food pyramid [he hates it!], artificial sweeteners [you might as well be drinking DDT!], and anti-depressants [too many people are taking them! Try amino acid precursors first!]) has a weekly quiz, and we had our first one yesterday. I was buzzing through the answers, feeling good about how prepared I was, and then I got to this question:

Christopher’s lunch contains 121 grams of carbohydrates, 40 grams of protein, and 25 grams of fat. What percent of calories in this meal come from fat?

Uhhhhh. Uhhhhhhh.

Well, first of all, Christopher, that is a mighty big lunch you are eating, and I for one—

Okay wait, that’s not one of the answers. The answers are . . . oh hell, the answers are numbers. With one obnoxious “this answer is not possible to determine” choice just to fuck with me.

I got as far as I could, which was to multiply each nutrient count by their per-gram calorie count (4 for carbs and protein, 9 for fat, if you’re interested), then add the totals together, and then I had this to figure out:

What percent of 869 is 225?

And I had no. Idea. How to do that.

As it turned out, I was super lucky and of the answers provided I guessed the right one (26%), but damn, I felt like a total loser sitting there scribbling numbers on the test sheet, blowing eraser crumbs around, with absolutely no clue what I was doing. It doesn’t help that this class is made up of children, practically zygotes (no lie, I overheard one guy talking about the original Tron movie yesterday and he was all, “It’s not like I saw it when it came out, I mean, that was in the eighties“), and they’re all fresh from high school trig and biology and shit, and there I am in their midst, an aging sag-bellied mouthbreather lady who hasn’t been faced with a math question in FIFTEEN YEARS.

ANYWAY. So math. I need to work on that, sooner rather than later. Because goddamn, I am learning that I’m good at school now—like, for real, I’m a good student, you guys—and I want to ace this course despite the gaping numbers-shaped hole in my head.

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Amy
Amy
12 years ago

I did really well in math in high school. Like, got-a-B-in-upper-level-calculus good. And yet when a customer approaches me at my oh-so-glamorous minimum wage job and wants to know what 40% off this t-shirt is? Yeah no. It’s not going to happen. Percentages are the one thing that have always confused the hell out of me. Well, not the ‘one’ thing. I also haven’t figured out why people poop in the floor of public places (see: retail stores).

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

I have the exact same problem as you. And at the age of 25, last year, I discovered that I have dyscalculia.

Personally, if I were you, I’d look at this checklist http://www.dyscalculia.org/symptoms.html

You have to pay for a full evaluation, but if the list sounds like you, you likely have it.

If you do have a spatial learning disability, your school may have resources to help you learn. There’s no reason to live in fear.

Jas
Jas
12 years ago

Take the remedial math course! Do it! It will likely start off with basic addition and subtraction, and you will be wondering if you somehow actually enrolled in second grade, but after the first week or two it will get into things like fractions and you will remember that you never actually learned how to divide fractions, and you will be so grateful you took the course. Ahem. Not that I have any experience with that, or anything.

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

I used to teach Statistics for Dipshits. Or, I mean, rather, Statistics for English Majors Who Just Wanted Their Damn Math Credit, already, GOD.

I tell you this because a) I’m about to give advice and b) OMG I was so that person until I took the above mentioned class as a student and OMG ,suprise, I rock at statistics, despite my total and complete belief that I didn’t “do” math. At. All. (Seriously, my last year in High School I took three history classes and two english classes and was all “Eff you, Math, I’m out”

ANYWAY: Here would be my advice: Go to class. Sit in the front. Read through the homework and ask REALLY DUMB questions. Monopolize the teacher for all you are worth and make him/her go through, step by stupid step, exactly what they are doing to get to the answer. Math builds on itself; what you learned last week will be assumed knowledge the next week. Don’t get behind, it will just make it so much harder. Do all the practice problems.

You WILL be fine. This is half a mental block, anyway. Shut up that voice that says “I hate this i hate this i hate this” and instead LISTEN to what the teacher is saying and make him repeat if it doesn’t make sense. Math is seriously about attitude. It’s more scared of you than you are of it, I promise.

Amanda
Amanda
12 years ago

I’m taking a basic math class this summer to prepare for one I must take in the fall. I’m dreading it. Funny thing is, the past 12 years I’ve dealt with numbers and balancing all of the time. However taking an actual class and having to learn this crap all over again scares me. Like I’ll ever use it again anyway….sigh.

J
J
12 years ago

Would you consider paying for a math tutor?

Gleemonex
12 years ago

GOD, do I feel you. I am mathretarded. I did what I had to do to get the grades I needed in high school — and all the colleges I wanted to go to required four years of honors-level math, GAAAAAAAAAH — but my methods involved mostly cold sweat, rapid heartbeat, soul-deep dread, 7:00 a.m. voluntary tutorial sessions with the teachers, and of course repeated re-doing of each and every question (usually arriving at a different god. damn. answer. each of three or seven times through). And when I found out my college of choice had no math requirement for graduation, OH THE DANCE OF FREEDOM AND JOY I DID DANCE IT!

And then five years of Math Skills Erosion later, I had to take the GRE.

My hat is off to you, Sundry — buckle down and plow through it like it’s mile 23, yo.

brielle
brielle
12 years ago

“What percent of 869 is 225?”

My super easy to remember trick (at least for me) is to remember “what” is ?, “of” is the multiply sign and “is” is an equals. So the sentence is now:

?% x 869 = 225

I always remember the right way to divide the numbers to get a percent :)

Jess
Jess
12 years ago

I used to teach adults in math and we spent tons of time on ratios. i’d say it was the number one thing that i taught. and each learner had a different way that would work for them.

try them all until you find one.

and once you find that method, i promise you, something will click, and it’ll make sense.

Gleemonex
12 years ago

Data point: My SAT score — taken at the absolute peak of my math skills & practice, and after four months of SAT-specific tutoring on the math half? The math half was EXACTLY TWO HUNDRED POINTS lower than the verbal. Yeahhhh. Thank Shatner the verbal was near the top or else that would’ve been one poor score indeed.

Brenda
Brenda
12 years ago

I’m in college right now and am taking intro to algebra. I took algebra in high school and barely passed it. I took pre-algebra in college and barely passed it. When I took my placement test last year I had no idea what the hell I was looking at. I’m in this into to algebra class and love it! I think have 20 years of “life experience” has helped a lot. Also, having a great teacher who explains things helps. I’m going to a community college full of adult students so it helps that most people are on the same level that I am. Good luck! You can do it!

Sahara
12 years ago

For that particular question, I think you COULD have answered that the question was unsolvable because you don’t know if the dude had any calories from alcohol (1g = 7 calories). Carbs, proteins, fats, AND ALCOHOL.

Erm, I think. right?

Sarah
12 years ago

ALEKS: http://www.aleks.com/

I graduated with a journalism degree 10-ish years ago, last math class was in 10th grade. I actually enjoyed working on math using this site (despite one note-taking entry titled, “Formula for calculating volume, I want to kill myself”).

Bachelor Girl
12 years ago

I failed or nearly failed every single math class I ever took until college, when I finally had someone other than a bored, under-paid public school teacher to teach it to me.

(Sorry. That was snotty, but it’s the TRUTH.)

Lo and behold, I discovered I’m actually pretty good at math; I’d just never had a good math teacher. Smart as you are, I suspect you might be the same way. Don’t give up.

Christina
12 years ago

It is like you are writing about me here. I am exactly this way. I fear Math. I suck at Math. It gave me even lower self esteem as a student which just added to my overall self esteem that also sucked overall.

I managed not one but two whole effing degress (BS and MPA) without ever having to do any math at all or just squeeking by but not being able to do math dashed many of my career plans (A Physical Therapist namely…) SO sad. I guess I should learn eventually too…

Deb
Deb
12 years ago

Yes, take the remedial math. I sucked at math in high school and had to take the remedial class my first semester in college. I discovered that I did NOT suck at math, just had sucky teachers in high school – a college professor made all the difference. Went on to take eleventy-five more math classes and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering.

So. It can be done. I homeschool my kids, so if you want a DIY remedial math class, email me and I’ll hook you up with some options.

Chris
12 years ago

For percentages, I always remember I have to divide the little number BY the big number because it’s BASS AKWARDS and sticks in my mind as the way you’d think would be wrong. But it’s not. UGHHH.

I second a previous commenter, only worse- when I took the SAT, my math score was exactly HALF of my verbal. Like them, good thing the verbal score was high or Lord would I have looked like an idiot.

RMBmom
RMBmom
12 years ago

Delurking to say: TAKE the remedial math course(s). Start at the very first one they offer, even if you test higher on a placement test, and go through the whole series. Yes, I know that they charge you for them. Yes, I know that they are not worth credit. Yes, I know that you hate math, that you are convinced that you are not good at math.

Been there, done that. But, you’ve already proven that you are good at this college thing. You are already seeing that colloge as an adult is different than college as fresh-out-of-high school. You are probably starting to recognize that you appreciate the education more now, when you are doing it for you, instead of because it was expected of you.

Take the math classes. I triple-dog-double-dare you.

Korinna
12 years ago

Holy Moses. Not Having to Take Math is reason #1 why I became an English Lit major and then turned into a Librarian.

I am not good at the maths.

JenB
JenB
12 years ago

Quick trick to answer that problem. You totally rock for going back to school! Good luck!

225 = x
— —
869 100

225 x 100 = 869x

22500 = x
—–
869

25.89 = x or 26%.

dcfullest
12 years ago

My tenth grade math teacher was amazing. She totally changed my life. She told us to think of math as a foreign language that we needed to translate into english.

What= X
Is= equals
Of= multiply

What percent of 869 is 225 means
x multiply 869= 225
869x= 225

Divide 225 by 869 and you get .258

To translate numbers into percentages, just move the decimal 2 spots.
Thus 25.8%

I swear do it a few times and it will all make sense. I thought I was stupid in math, until her!

JenB
JenB
12 years ago

That looked better when I typed it, now the spacing is all funny. It should be 225/869 = x/100.

Ris
Ris
12 years ago

Oh God math makes me break out into a sweat too. It’s to the point that I don’t even pretend to be working on a math problem when it comes up in regular life (calculating tip, by how much is the temperature going to drop, etc). I just stand there staring blankly until someone else figures it out. It’s bad. And somehow I got through high school, college (and a nutrition class) and grad school without it. The bad behavior is only being reinforced.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
12 years ago

OMG MATH! I suck at math and I am totally dreading when my son comes home with math homework that I can’t help him with. He is already doing algebra and geometry in 2nd grade!

Kristi
12 years ago

Dude! If you can run a fucking marathon, you can kick algebra’s ass! ONE STEP AT A TIME!

You can do it Superwoman! :)

Becky Mochaface
12 years ago

Math I hates. Which is why I didn’t end up in a mathematical related profession like my parents. Good luck with the maths!

victoria
victoria
12 years ago

It’s really cool that you’re taking on challenges and knocking them down, one by one. Thank you for writing about this and inspiring readers like me.

Clueless But Hopeful Mama

OH MY. I just scrolled through the responses and saw actual math solutions and my heart started racing and I broke out into a sweat. So YEAH I’m with you on this one.

Just had to say that you are totally inspiring me. It’s been my dream, for like 10 YEARS, to go back to school for physical therapy. Which means at least two years of post bac work of all math and sciences (gotta love liberal arts schools with no math requirement!).

You are showing me how.

One step at a time.

Christine
12 years ago

Hey, I was in the hard-maths class in school (third from the bottom, but never quite the worst, so I stayed) and somehow did okay in my exams, but I never liked it. Now, like 19 years later (ack), I have no idea how to do that problem either. You lose the skills if you don’t keep using them, that’s all. A little practice and you’ll be fine.

But when faced with anything approaching more than addition these days, my brain glazes over and goes fuzzy and there’s a buzzing in my ears and I defer to my husband, who’s like, practically a rocket scientist. Of course, if it’s him trying to explain something to me, then I still have to try and fake it.

lucidkim
lucidkim
12 years ago

I see two people have posted the opposite of what I was going to say, now I’m not sure I should –

I was told whenever you see “of” in the question, you know you have to divide.

So I divided 225/869 = .2589 (26%)

My issue was trying to figure out which one I was supposed to divide into – so I usually did it both ways and went with the answer that looked right (my ‘scientific’ approach). Yes, my verbal scores were nearly double my math, so ignoring my advice here might be wise.

kim

MommiePie
12 years ago

Two words: Too-tour.

I think the one-on-one time will help you stay ahead and you can ask all the “dumb” questions without having to embarass your self as the “old lady in class who asks all the dumb questions and wastes everyone elses time”. And, if you sit in the front, all the rest of the students will be rolling their eyes behind you.

Not that you are dumb or old or even worthy of the young college student eyeroll, just saying a tutor, in addition to the class, might be more effective.

andrea
12 years ago

I am completely math stupid. Like can barely handle elementary school math problems. Because of this I have a reoccurring nightmare that my husband leaves us and I am forced to help with third grade math homework all alone and can’t complete it and therefore my kid totally fails and it is all my fault.

This is all to say that I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school for nursing and I will also be taking one of the remedial math courses just to get me ready for the basic algebra that I need to even think about getting into the program. I am dreading it, but if nothing else, maybe I’ll be able to help my kids with math through at least 5th grade if I do it.

dorrie
dorrie
12 years ago

tee hee. I suck mightily at math also. I also work as an accountant. WTF, life?

Karen Bennett
12 years ago

So I am one of those crazy people that took math classes in college to raise my GPA. It comes easily to me.

Now before you kill me I would reccomend the remedial class. It will remind you of things you already know and teach you some great short cuts.

I would definately have to be in remedial english if there is such a thing. I suck at english/writing rules and such.

Good luck!

June
12 years ago

I took an engineering class during my first year of graduate school. What a humbling experience. Even with the answers to the problem sets, I wasn’t sure I understood what was going on. Most times, I had a sheet filled with equations, but I couldn’t tell which ones to use under what circumstances. I met with the prof several times during the semester and only got a sense of his deep compassion for me, but I did not make progress in the class. I worked my ass off and got the lowest possible C- (the lowest passing grade), and I am certain that it was a mercy grade. Sigh.

Re thinking about percentages: does it help conceptually to model them after money? That is, 50 cents is half (50%) of a dollar, etc. You’d know which is the denominator because you know 50 cents can’t be worth twice as much as a dollar, and so on.

And ditto about the mental block. There are some interesting studies out there that show that girls and women have been conditioned from a young age in the US to believe they are inherently bad at mathematics (or STEM subjects in general).

Sara
12 years ago

One thought for the actual math credits…you could try doing a CLEP or DSTT test and exempt out of it. Sounds scary, but if your school accepts them, you can get study guides on Amazon and if you can pass the practice test, you can pass the real thing. They give you tons of study material as well. So it ends up being about $70-90 and an hour of your time for the full course credit instead of sweating through the whole term. I went back to school about two years ago and finished in June of last year. I did several of these tests and wish now I’d known about the sooner! Here are the links to the test available.

http://www.getcollegecredit.com/downloads/examlist.pdf

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/clep/exams.html

MRW
MRW
12 years ago

I did well in math until calculus and yet, whenever I see a problem that says solve for X, I always think of this:

http://haha.nu/files/uploads/2006/funny-math/03.jpg

Anna A
Anna A
12 years ago

My only bit of advice is that if you’re able, take a class with Dale Hoffman. He taught at the UW for two quarters when I was there and still stands out as one of the best teachers I’ve had (colored chalk! apparent interest in teaching!). Other than that, I’d vote math tutor as well. Tons of college kids looking to make a little extra money (and plenty of them commute from the Eastside to UW/SU/etc)

Artemisia
12 years ago

Shit. At least you knew to convert it all to calories first. I would have been totally stumped right there, and probably – NO LIE – started crying a bit.

I HATE MATH.

Good luck. You have an awesome attitude about it.

samantha jo campen
12 years ago

I actually started sweating when you were breaking down that problem because I had flashbacks. AND THEY WEREN’T GOOD ONES.

I had to take a personality/skills test before I got hired for my current job. One portion had a math section where we couldn’t us a calculator. I almost threw in the towel right there. But I pushed on, did the best I could, and was done.

When I got the print-out results everything sounded great, all accurate, and then I got to the math assessment (which I remember word for word):

“Would benefit greatly from the use of a calculator. Could learn basic math skills with the help of a professional, preferably one on-site.”

BWAH HA HA HA! And it was all true! Luckily math isn’t involved with my job so I wasn’t too upset and I still got hired.

But dude. Teh maths? IS HARD.

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

I’ll preface this with the statement that i’m 52 and my daughter is 12… yes, I’m an ‘older’ mom… now hush. My point is… helping her with homework? Thank all that is holy for the internet is all I can say.

Maria
12 years ago

I, like Beth, also suffer from Dyscalculia. I always suffered in school without knowing why, and it’s not something I realized until later in life. I’ve never been officially tested, but I have just about every symptom. Beyond your fear of tip calculation and a general stated fear of math, you don’t seem to express an issue with spacial relation. The best thing I can suggest is what everyone is saying- to take the remedial course. What I use to combat my own disability in the absense of taking a formal class are math and logic puzzles. You can get them online or in just about any drug store. I have come to realize that the more I train my brain the better equipped I feel to handle math in every day life. Good luck!

April
April
12 years ago

I feel your pain. I work for the WV Division of Criminal Justice Services as a Justice Programs Specialist. It’s just a fancy title for someone that works with grants all day. Lots of grants. Millions of dollars worth of grants.

I went into Criminal Justice because I didn’t want to DO math. One of the best things about my undergrad degree was that it only required 1 math class to graduate. Basic Math. No Algebra for me.

Now, I spend all day every day dealing with budgets and funding streams. Evidently I need to re-evaluate my decision making paradigm.

Luckily we have some kick ass accountants here to check my shit so that I don’t screw the pooch and end up owing the Feds any $$$

sarah
12 years ago

Man, I so wish that you lived in, like, Florida, so that I could help you. I used to be a math teacher and I can tell you that the classes are a lot more engaging and less rote memorization these days.

Anyabeth
12 years ago

My mom is a math teacher so uh I wasn’t allowed to do that whole I can’t do math thing. And not having that fear has been a life saver for me a million times.

The irony here is that my mother had math fear in high school and college and it wasn’t until she found she hated teaching history that she learned to love the math.

My husband went through this when he wanted to do some computer classes and you need more than basic addition skills. Having a math teacher for a mother in law helped but what you need is a tutor. Find some one to review all of the basics with you. How to do percentages, decimals, how to do basic algebra. And take the remedial course because you need the confidence. Once you have that stuff under your belt just stop allowing yourself to say you can’t do math. Because you CAN.

Susanne
Susanne
12 years ago

This is where you have to remind yourself that hard work is far more important in life that sheer talented. Talented people are generally just average people that work really hard.

Becca
Becca
12 years ago

Holy shit, there are actually commenters doing math problems for you right now? Like, for reals? I’m like you – not incapable of doing math – but geeze louise, it sure does suck a a big fat one. Good luck, you’ll do great!

Katherine
Katherine
12 years ago

Years ago I found a book that was kind of a pop-up math book for adults. I wish I still had it–loaned it to my math-fearing brother and it’s now gone for all time–but it had games and pop-up things that took math from being abstract and boring to real and kind of fun to figure out. Maybe you could find something like that to help you get hooked in on the subject matter. That’s all you really need–an intellectual foothold in the subject matter. Then you’ll climb that like you’ve climbed every other wall you’ve stood at the bottom of.

Cheri
12 years ago

I went back to school at 36 and started in the retard math class, it was embarrassing, but after re-learning fractions, and ratios etc..I breezed through the rest of my math. I made it all the way through College Algebra with an A. :)
You can do it and it doesn’t matter where you start!
(I even made it through Nursing school!)