In Which Ella Uses Her Head As A Battering Ram

I spent a good portion of today studying math for the SAT.

As I’ve said before, here and here and here, I am not exceptionally good at math, though it has never been for lack of interest or trying. (I’m that kid that does really well in the honors level class because she studies her butt off and memorizes things for the test, only to promptly forget them a day later.) It’s not that I struggle spatially, I’m quite good with navigation, I just get distracted incredibly easily and frequently end up working too quickly for my own good.

I have to admit that I am rarely able to read something entirely in order; I usually read the first sentence of a paragraph, skip to the middle, read the last sentence or two, and then go back and fill in the remaining details unless I’ve become incredibly immersed in the subject. This is not, of course, to say that I am incapable of reading–I read constantly and with a lot of ease, and I do very well in English class–I just do it very strangely.

The same sort of thing happens when I’m trying to accomplish most other tasks. I try to do it all at once. It works fine if I’m doing something simple like putting on socks or buttoning something–I’ve long since mastered the art of doing the buttoning one handed with one hand starting at the top of the garment and the other starting at the bottom and the two of them meeting in the middle, and I can put on both of my socks at the exact same time (one of my childhood “parlor tricks”)–but it does not bode well for math.

Unless I’m doing some sort of math that requires racing and thinking quickly, I begin to get really, really fidgety and my mind begins to wander as I do the problem. I usually begin to become so obsessively focussed on focussing that I’m suddenly not paying full attention to the problem I’m trying to solve. This usually leads to me doing things like declaring that one and one sum to eleven or just forgetting about some part of the equation in its entirety. And it’s mortifying.

I also really struggle to pay attention during math class. I love taking notes, but the moment I decide to look back over what I’ve written, it’s just a neat set of numbers and equations without words connecting any of it, and I can’t make heads or tails of what just happened. I’ve tried everything: I write on special paper, I have a color-coded system, and I’ve done tutoring. Nothing has helped except banging my head against the wall and dramatically moaning “WHY ME? WHY ME?”

And it makes me so incredibly anxious not be good at something the moment I try it. I’m competitive; I have this insatiable urge to be the best (which is a problem for another day). I’m used to being in the upper tier and that just doesn’t happen when it comes to math. I get A’s, but I don’t really deserve them. I just always do my homework and classwork and memorize. I very rarely understand what I’m actually doing.

But back to this afternoon’s studying. I am a HUGE fan of prep books. I’ve taken tests for classes that I haven’t taken before and done well because I studied the book. So when I opened up one of my SAT prep books to the math section, I thought that it would be pretty smooth sailing. It, however, was not. I quickly discovered that I knew next to nothing, and that the detailed descriptions in the book of how to solve the problems just didn’t make any sense.

So here I am, nine hours later, switching between problem sets in the book and videos on Khan Academy still trying to figure it out, feeling as though I am trying to ram through a castle’s walls using my head as the battering ram. I’ll let y’all know if I ever even make a dent in the stone without causing permanent damage to my brain.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

6 thoughts on “In Which Ella Uses Her Head As A Battering Ram

    • That does make me feel better! I’m finally beginning to properly improve. Khan Academy is so incredibly helpful. You should check them out sometime. It’s the most amazing education non-profit. Salman Khan is doing such awesome things. He gave a TED Talk fairly recently, too. If you’re interested, I can give you the link. It’s quite well done.

  1. I never liked math at all. I did fairly well on the SATs, well enough that I didn’t have to take remedial math the first semester in college. But I struggled through the math courses I had to take. Good luck with it! I’m sure you’ll do well.

  2. I know exactly what you mean about Math! I’ve always preferred letters and words, so numbers hold no interest for me. Funny thing is, I became an SAT tutor almost ten years ago…for only the Critical Reading though, and herd my students elsewhere for Math!

    Good to hear about the Khan Academy, too; I’ve never heard of them.

    • I actually quite enjoy doing the Critical Reading section. It’s kind of fun for me. I know that that sounds completely insane, but it just feels like doing a crossword puzzle to me. Words are comfortable.

      Judging from your writing–I love your blog–you must be a really great tutor!

      Khan Academy is such a good resource. You should check it out if you’re looking for something to recommend for students struggling with math, science, or economics.

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