♫♫ Love it or hate it, you gotta learn it ♫♫♫

Heard that hit? You must reallyyyy be a 21st-century baby if you’ve never heard that. Just kidding. I wrote the song but never sang it. Or liked it. Or wanted it. There are some things we all have in our lives we tend to evade or run away from. Our default response to the elusive; what we can’t control and understand is to ward off our attention from it.

As I was typing this, I began to feel dizzy. Have you ever had difficulty in something that you suddenly became nervous when you heard about it? If you’re like me who had difficulty in this topic in mathematics, you’re my brother, you’re my sister! Algebra was tough back then. Maybe more confusing than tough. It is an aspect of mathematics students find difficult in school. Now, I think I have a clue as to why students find it difficult. It’s the letters! Starting to learn mathematics, we are taught numbers but all of a sudden, we begin to see letters like x, y, z and it all becomes confusing. “Whatever happened to 2+2=4? Why are they bringing x and y into the matter now?” These are the thoughts of almost every school child as they begin to learn algebra. The transition is strange, real and hatred for mathematics begins from that time for a lot of students.

Recently, I was assisting a junior boy with his homework and he told me he did not understand geometry. I tried explaining it to him but I found out he had a relatively good knowledge of the topic. In an attempt to find out what the problem really was, I decided to probe further. He then told me that he felt jittery and confused anytime he saw the theta symbol (θ). While this might sound really funny, this happens to people when they begin to see letters in math (mathematical anxiety). I had to explain to him that theta is just a Greek letter the way x is an English alphabet. As soon as I told him, that, he was calm and was able to understand why we were always “looking for” theta ;).

Unfortunately, if you never had a calm and friendly math teacher, you would be in that dilemma as well. I remember having to have extra lessons during my Junior school II holidays because I failed math woefully. It was my unfriendly teacher’s fault or my “not-understanding” what he taught. I refuse to blame myself. The plus time minus, minus times plus was tricky! Oh well, thanks to my mum who never agreed with my failure but insisted I went for lessons during the holidays!

Now, you might have been able to scale through basic foundational math but didn’t really understand why some things were done in a certain way or you probably have a child at home to teach. Because I love you dearly, I’ll be highlighting a few things to note that helped me and can also help you.

  • x or a or any other letter is just a variable. It means that it does not have any number/value attached to it but has the capacity to assume any value or number. E.g. x can be 0 or 2 or 1000 or-2 or-2.4 or any number whether negative or positive
    So whenever you see a letter in any equation like y+5, it means y can be any number depending on what it is equated to.


  • In Mathematics, signs are very important. Memorize this because you can’t do without it!
    + x – = –
    – x + = –
    – x – = +
    + x + = +


  • x+x=2x, x+x+x=3x and so on (You’re basically adding it with the number of times it appears)


  • x*x=x^2, x*x*x=x^3 and so on (You’re basically multiplying it by the number of times)


  • x is the same as 1x and when you don’t see any symbol in front of a letter, the default symbol is + positive e.g. x is the same as +x,2x is the same as +2x,3x is the same as+3x etc.


  • x+y=x+y They are two different variables and while in exceptional cases they might be the same, you cannot assume they are. For instance,x can be 5 while y is-7.


  • The coefficient of any variable is the number (plus the sign actually) in front of it e.g. the coefficient of 9y is 9, for -190m is -190, 0.2t is 0.2, etc.


  • When you, your student or child see equations such as find the answer to -3+9, try to equate it to a real-life scenario. Assume minus (–) means you’re owing someone and plus (+) means you own that amount. So, if you’re owing me 3 oranges and you have 9 oranges, after paying my debt you have 6 oranges left that you own which is +6. So your answer is 6. Another example is -12x+4x. Because they have the same variable x, it can be solved as you owing me 12 oranges and you have 4 oranges. When you pay me what you have which is 4 oranges, you still owe me 8 oranges and so the answer is -8x.


  • A lot of letters represented in mathematics such as ϴ, π, α are Greek letters. This is because a lot of ancient great mathematicians were Greek such as Pythagoras of Pythagoras theorem. Also, one of the parents of Western civilization is the Greek civilization. Therefore, this usage has been passed down through the centuries. If you want to know more of them, you can check out the Greek alphabets and you’ll see some of your favourite symbols used in mathematics.


  • Math is easy only when you view it from a perspective of ease and seek to apply it to real-life situations.


  • Friends, love your math teacher, it’ll most likely help you improve your mathematics.

I hope I was able to help you in rediscovering mathematics and possibly catching up for the lost time.

Did you ever dislike math? At what point did you begin to dislike mathematics and what topic was it?

I’d love to hear from you!




  1. This is perhaps your most hilarious post thus far, I didn’t do further maths in secondary school simply for this reason. I stepped into class, saw dy/dz and freaked out. I was like “x” I know, “y” I know; but what is this “d” and “z”! I simply left the class and never looked back …It took a lot of time to muster the courage to face it in University…

Your comments are like water to my thirst. Let me know what you think!