Maths: it’s all about attitude

How many times have you heard people declare they’re "rubbish at maths" or "never been any good with numbers"?

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To most of us, those phrases sound very familiar. Many of us can relate personally to the deep-seated fear that maths classrooms and textbooks can conjure up. Others are puzzled by the dread that seems to engulf friends and family whenever maths is mentioned. We know of adults who, before improving their confidence with numbers, were apprehensive and nervous about doing complex calculations at work. Whichever category you fall into, shifting the way that we think and feel about numbers can help us all reach our potential.

Overcoming the maths myths

Misconceptions about maths have long been around. For instance, like ‘boys are better at maths’ - a damaging fallacy - which perhaps explains why women and girls take up just 13% of the roles in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and careers. Then there’s the talent myth, that mathematical prowess is encoded in DNA and that you either have the maths “gene” or you don’t. What we do all have is a brain - a muscle which needs to be exercised and trained. What we all need is everyday skills with data and numbers. But before we can start our maths workout, we need to push the myths aside, and start to cultivate a positive mentality.

How changing your attitude can help you at work

Many of the people National Numeracy has been working with have told us how they are now confident to go for a promotion or course. We regularly hear about fears of anything involving an exam, budgeting or work with figures holding people back. The first step in overcoming this is mental preparation. Knowing that you can improve your numeracy can pave the way towards actually learning something new. You almost certainly use maths in your job every day, but you may not notice, because you are so used to the routine. If working with numbers doesn’t go well at first, stick with it – making mistakes or finding it hard doesn’t make you bad at maths, it’s all part of the learning process. Go at your own pace, talk to a colleague about what they would do, look online for some help. The more you do the more confident you’ll become. 

With a little self-belief and mental preparation, we can all start our journey towards improved numeracy. Over 25,000 people did just this in May this year when we reached out to the country on the first ever National Numeracy Day. You may have even seen it in the news!

How you can have a maths workout today

An attitudinal shift towards maths is happening, and you can be part of it. The free National Numeracy Challenge ( can help you find out where your number skills need some work. It starts with an adaptive assessment to check if you have the Essentials of Numeracy along with a psychometric attitudinal quiz, before taking you on to learning resources which you can use at your own pace. Why not start now and see how far you’ve come by the 15th of May - National Numeracy Day 2019.

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Cloe Ofori

Cloe is Communications Intern at the independent charity National Numeracy.

The charity aims to help raise low levels of numeracy among both adults and children and to promote the importance of everyday maths skills.