Being Bad at Maths

I had a dream last night that I was a Maths Professor in a prestigious university, which is quite funny, as I am the world’s worst at maths.  Truly, the world’s absolute worst.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a Mathematical genius, a Physicist or a Rocket Scientist, with a brain that can really see figures. That must be something.

I wasn’t just bad at maths. I was hopeless, useless and an utter failure. And it being the 70’s, teachers weren’t backward in telling me so.   I can vividly remember standing up in primary school, sobbing with shame, as once again I got 0 out of 10 in the ‘10 a day’ challenge. How I hated those nasty little text books.


When I got to senior school having abysmally failed my 11+ , (on the maths paper) it was even worse.  I was introduced to such horrors as Logarithms.  Logarithms, even the word makes me shudder. What on earth were they? What did all those pages of tiny numbers mean? They were like all my nightmares rolled into one, all wound up in a hideous little green pamphlet.

In desperation, my poor parents enlisted a friendly neighbour to try and help. It was akin to being taught a subject in a language I had no knowledge of.   “So you see,  x in this case equals 12”, the neighbour would hopefully say.  I would give him a blank stare.  No, I didn’t see at all.  I didn’t even begin to see. I eventually came to the conclusion that there is a big secret key to understanding  maths and it must have been explained one rainy day in year 3 or 4 when I was at home, sick.


Take Algebra. Why did x have to equal something? It never made any sense. If x equalled something, why not say what it was, rather than facing the whole palarva of having to try and work it out.

Fractions were obviously devised by a very evil mind. Why put one number over another one? Long division?  Not a hope.  Pythagoras, differentiation and integration, trigonometry and tangents? Every one a complete and utter mystery to me.


Andy likes to tease me when we are in the car with “So….if we are traveling at 60  miles an hour and we are 220 miles from our destination, what time will we arrive if we started at 12pm.” I cringe. I remember questions like that in exam papers. I can still see my maths teacher writing “SEE ME!!” in terrifying big red letters across my exercise book, when I had achieved yet another abysmal mark.



English and history were another thing altogether, I sailed through.  I was on the highest level in reading before anyone else in my year and was reading books at an advanced level before I was 10. I wrote poems, stories and essays and could memorise historical facts and dates with ease. Sadly, no one in the maths department cared about any of this at all.

You will not be surprised by the fact that I got an U grade at O level Maths. U stands for “ungraded”,  it’s so bad they don’t even give you an F for “fail.” Imagine being so bad the examiners deem your paper ungradeable!

I was reliably informed that you couldn’t get anywhere in the big wide world without a Maths O’level, so I retook the exam …and once again achieved a U.  More misery.   Finally, a helpful teacher decided that perhaps a more practical approach would suit me, and I did a CEE qualification for a year, which involved my wandering round the New Forest measuring parcels of land.  Somehow I scraped a Grade 1, which everyone accepted was as close to an O’ level as I was ever going to get, and we all heaved a sigh of relief.


The sad thing is that being hopeless at Maths did make me feel like a complete failure for quite some time and that is a shame because I wasn’t a failure at all. It is absolutely OK to be terrible at something, as we can’t all be good at everything (what a boring world that would be).  We should make the most of the abilities we do have and not spend time bemoaning what we lack. Being bad at Maths probably made me better at English!

Andy reminds me that if I’m in John Lewis and I see a sign advertising 20% off a Mulberry bag, I can calculate the price quicker than you can say “ Where is my credit card”.  So these days, I’m probably passable at mental arithmetic, at least as much as I need to be.

I was chatting to a friend yesterday and she spoke of her struggles at school due to dyslexia  (compared, I had it very easy). She now runs an extremely successful business and is a local celebrity. She said her determination saw her through and she never stopped believing she would be successful.

So, if you are terrible at Maths, hopeless at French or lacking in some other ability, make sure you see it as tiny aspect of your overall potential, don’t dwell on it and accept your limitations in one small area. But remember it’s only one VERY small area.

”Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. See every failure as a stepping stone to success” – Oprah Winfrey




2 replies »

  1. I too was abysmal at math except for geometry which offered visual prompts and opportunities for memorization.
    I recently discovered that I have Spatial Sequence Synesthesia. I’d asked people throughout my life (I’m 62.), “How do YOU see numbers? Vacant looks followed. Now, I know that my 3D visualization of numbers, dates, days of the week, months, decades… may have been a factor in my inability to deal with numbers on a mathematical level.

    Do you visualize those things that I mentioned in a 3D universe? If you do, check out Synesthesia. In stead of feeling “dumb”, you may have a gift! 😉

    • Oh my goodness I have never heard of that – I must check it out immediately! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave a comment. 😬

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