If you’re reading this, you might have a little bit (or a lot) of math anxiety in nursing school. And guess what? It’s okay. I promise you, we can…and will…get through this.
Or, maybe you’re not really sure if you have math anxiety, but you know you feel a little uncertain and unsure of yourself when it comes to math. Either way, we can definitely tackle this one together.
Ready? Let’s do this! I talk you through it in episode 168 of the Straight A Nursing podcast, or you can keep reading here.
What is Math Anxiety?
The official definition of math anxiety is a feeling of tension, fear, or apprehension that interferes with your ability to perform math calculations. Sound like you?
In general, people with math anxiety truly think they are incapable of consistently and confidently doing anything related to math. Unfortunately, this feeling of anxiety uses up your working memory, which in and of itself makes it very difficult to think through problems. It’s a vicious cycle…and one we’ll talk more about in a bit.
Why Do You Have Math Anxiety in Nursing School?
If you’ve been feeling less-than-confident about your ability to do medical calculations because of math anxiety, I want you to know you are not alone. There are so many students who are going through the same things you are, and for good reason. Here are just a few reasons why students might be more inclined to have math anxiety in nursing school:
- Your dosage calculations exam is a very “high stakes” exam with a strict grading scale. Often schools require you to score 95 -100% or you are removed from the program.
- Many schools don’t formally teach dosage calculations and expect you to come into the program prepared or learn on your own.
- The exam is likely timed and it increases with difficulty every semester.
I didn’t tell you all those things to scare you, but to let you know that if you ARE feeling anxious about math, it’s not because of any shortcomings on your part and it’s definitely not uncommon. In fact, studies show that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. report having severe math anxiety, with about 93% reporting some level of math anxiety. In other words…you are not alone!
In fact, having math anxiety doesn’t mean you’re necessarily bad at math. Emerging research shows that students with math anxiety are actually AVERAGE TO HIGH math performers. So take a moment to pat yourself on the back, and then let’s get to work on addressing our math anxiety in nursing school.
Step 1: Reframe how we talk to ourselves about math
So the first thing we’re going to do to tackle our math anxiety is REFRAME how we talk to ourselves about math.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever said this about yourself….”I’m bad at math” or “I’m not a numbers person” or something like that. How does that statement make you feel? I don’t know about you, but when I say those things, I feel hopeless, fearful, anxious, and uncertain. Definitely NOT how I want to feel when I’m walking into a high-stakes dosage calculations exam.
But what if you changed how you talk to yourself about math? I had a student who was enrolled in my Crucial Concepts Bootcamp who suffered from severe math anxiety…she said to herself over and over, “I am bad at math” and was fearful that an inability to do math was going to prevent her from passing nursing school.
So this student had attended a live stream where I talked about negative self-talk and how it sabotages our success. And she took immediate action. Instead of saying, “I am bad at math” she reframed that statement into something believable and true. She started saying, “My brain is open to learning how to do math. My brain knows this is hard but I’m practicing and getting better every day.”
And guess what happened? She wrote to me about midway through her first semester to tell me this: “I have been getting excellent grades and have so much confidence in my ability.” BAM!
Of course, she also did the work by going through Bootcamp and practicing dosage calculations. But more than that, the REFRAMING gave her the confidence and belief to even TRY. And that’s what I want for you.
So take a moment to reframe how you talk to yourself about math. The keys to making your reframe statement are:
- It can’t just be the opposite of your negative statement. This is unrealistic.
- It must be something TRUE that you can believe.
- Write it out and place it somewhere where you will see it every day.
- Notice how you feel when you say this reframed statement. My guess is you’ll feel confident, hopeful, proud, and a lot less anxious.
Step 2: Break the math cycle of failure
The key to dealing with math anxiety is to break the math cycle of failure.
As you can see from the image, it really is a relentless cycle. You have a bad experience (maybe a teacher embarrassed you in front of the class, or your parents said things like, “I never use Algebra, you don’t need that”) and from there you start to avoid math. After all, why would you want to perpetuate the feelings from that negative experience? Because you avoid math, you don’t prep adequately for assessments, and guess what happens? You have a poor performance, which leads to a negative experience. And around and around we go.
But, with the right mindset AND preparation you absolutely can have a positive math cycle. And it all starts when you have a consistent and reliable method for performing all dosage calculations questions. And that, my friends, is dimensional analysis.
Yes, there are multiple ways to perform dosage calculations. But do you really want to be scrambling for the “right formula” when you’re already nervous about the exam? Take my word for it. You do not. Dimensional analysis provides the consistency and reliability you need to have that positive math experience and break the math cycle of failure.
Step 3: Review Dimensional Analysis and Unit Conversions
If you learned dimensional analysis in chemistry, go back and brush off those skills and start applying the framework of dimensional analysis to dosage calculations. And if you’re new to dimensional analysis or not sure how to apply it to dosage math…no problem! Review my step-by-step tutorial here.
You also want to review common unit conversions, including metric to imperial units. Looking for a shortcut? Then you’ll love my free unit conversions guide. Grab yours here!
Want to take a deep dive into dosage calculations?
If you really want to dive into all kinds of dosage calculations (even the tricky ones), and learn a consistent and reliable method in the process, then check out my course Confident Calculations.
This course will:
- Teach you how to perform dosage calculations with confidence
- Provide step-by-step lessons that build on one another
- Give you ample practice with all types of dosage calculations
- Show you all the ways your instructors will try to trick you
- Teach you how to think critically through the problems
- Empower you with a skill you will use throughout nursing school and your career
Your Action Steps In Review
If you’ve read to this point, you’re motivated to kick your math anxiety to the curb…and that makes me so proud of you! Your action steps are:
- Reframe how you talk to yourself about math
- Recognize that you CAN break the math cycle of failure
- Review dimensional analysis
- Memorize the most common unit conversions
- Practice, practice, practice
- And, if you want to take things to the next level, check out Dosage Calculations Bootcamp.
Blazer, C. (2011). Strategies for reducing math anxiety (No. 1102; p. 8). Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED536509.pdf
Nisbet, J. (2019, March 8). Overcoming math anxiety: 12 evidence-based tips that work. Prodigy. https://www.prodigygame.com/main-en/blog/math-anxiety/