Don’t Let Math Stand in Your Way of Becoming a Nurse

(This is a guest post from, a reputable website for connecting students with tutors, both in-person AND on line. When I’m not available to offer tutoring, this is the website where I refer nursing students!)

“I’m just not a math person.”

“I’ve never been good at math.”

“I. Hate. Math.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. About 50% of adults (more women than men) in the United States experience medium to high levels of math anxiety.

And when we say “math anxiety” we’re not just talking about a general dislike for math. We’re talking about real, felt anxiety. Researchers at Stanford University wanted to better understand how early this kind of anxiety develops and what can be done to address it. They connected third grade students to machines that scanned their brains while they took a math test—and the results were scary… literally. Many students were afraid of math in the same way people are afraid of bears, heights and spiders.

Yes, math phobia (also known as arithmophobia) is a real thing. And just like all phobias, there are ways to manage and overcome it.

But what does math have to do with nursing, anyway?

Math is a major part of nursing entrance exams like HESI A2 and TEAs. If you struggle with math, learn some suggestions for how to overcome your math anxiety.

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Don’t Let Math Stand in Your Way of Becoming a Nurse

Math is Necessary for Nursing

One of the most critical parts of nursing is administering medication to patients, and nurses are required to use math formulas to determine how much to give patients by IV, injection or other methods. Math plays a big part in ensuring that not too much, or too little, medication is given to a patient.

Math also plays a role in calculating fluids, ovulation dates, body mass index, glycemic index, expected due dates and tracking the amount of calories a patient has consumed in a day. So depending on your area of expertise in nursing, you may be required to use basic arithmetic and algebra on a daily basis.

If you had a bad experience or struggled with math as a kid, you’ve probably done a good job of avoiding it most your life. But nursing school isn’t high school. You can’t fail a test and still pass the class simply by turning in your homework or memorizing the equations—there are no math shortcuts in nursing. You’ll need a good understanding of basic arithmetic and algebra for:

  • your college algebra prerequisite
  • the Med-Surg (Medical-Surgical Nursing) class in your nursing program when NCLEX questions are introduced
  • when you sit for the NCLEX exam
  • And, likely some on the job application once you start working as a nurse

So (unfortunately) avoiding math isn’t really an option.

Bummer, we know. We hear this from struggling nursing students all. the. time. They failed a class or did poorly on a test, and if they don’t figure it out and improve, they can kiss those nursing dreams goodbye.

Take Sarah, for example.

A Case Study: How to Improve Your Nursing Math Skills

Sarah wanted to become a nurse since she was a senior in high school, but she failed the TEAS exam three times, struggling with the math and science portions. She finally found a nursing program at a community college she was able to get into without passing the TEAS exam, but college algebra was a prerequisite.

Math is a major part of nursing entrance exams like HESI A2 and TEAs. If you struggle with math, learn some suggestions for how to overcome your math anxiety.

Her first speed bump in the college algebra class was failing the midterm. She was devastated. She tried every way to get help—from her teacher and the teaching assistant to the school’s tutoring lab—but nobody was able to give her the 1-to-1 attention she needed to overcome her struggles.

She started to doubt her ability to get into nursing school. Not only would she need to pass college algebra, but she’d need a GPA competitive enough to even be accepted. So, Sarah decided to withdraw from the algebra class in order to save her GPA and planned to try again the next semester.

Before taking college algebra for the second time, she decided to seek out an algebra tutor at Wyzant. After comparing tutor profiles and reviews from former students, she found her match. Sarah’s tutor was able to listen to her challenges, reiterate lessons from class in a way that made sense to her, and help her develop the confidence that had been lost for some time.

It worked. The personalized help paid off and Sarah passed her college algebra class with a B.

Now, Sarah is in her last semester of nursing school and she’s confident she will graduate with flying colors, pass the NCLEX and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. Sarah hated math, and it’s still not her favorite subject, but now she knows she can do it and that’s what made all the difference.

Research for Math Tutoring

Now, what ever happened to those students at Stanford?

The same researchers wanted to see what would happen to the students who feared math after they had 1-to-1 tutoring from a private instructor. After eight weeks of personalized instruction, the students were tested again with scanners. This time, their fear was significantly lower—or, in some cases, completely gone.

Finding Individualized Math Help

The key to both Sarah and the students at Stanford overcoming their fears and struggles with math was finding the right kind of help for them. In these cases, personalized tutors were the ticket. In other cases, it may be:

  • Talking to a teacher or professor
  • Asking a teaching assistant for help, and attending their office hours
  • Asking others students who are doing well in the class if you can study with them
  • Visiting the school’s help center or asking if there are other resources available
  • Watching videos on Khan Academy or YouTube that go over the areas of math you’re struggling with

When you find yourself in a bind, take a deep breath and remember that anyone with the right tools—even you—can learn to succeed in math.

Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Let Math Stand in Your Way of Becoming a Nurse”

  1. Yolanda Crowell

    I know the feeling I hate math and had fear from it until this day ,I am an “Excellent” GNA , knowing the ends and out of Nursing ,,but when it comes to that math ,I shut down, Talking to my co-workers they just don’t know. My patiences familiar members, the Dr’s think that i am in charged of my unit on the knowlege that I have I am a visual person and have to stop thinking more what I read , so long story short I see some Nurses are slow and how did they get their licenses?💔
    Don’t’understand, i had recruited many Nurses and still to this day don’t know how they passed this course 😭

  2. My name is Godswill am from Nigeria I want to study abroad but am afraid of maths, becoz I hate it with passion

  3. Courtney

    I think deep down I have always wanted to be a nurse, but having such incredibly bad math skills (I have dyscalculia, severe math anxiety and ADHD) has made it feel impossible and therefore I have written off any chance of being able to do it. My confidence in my math skills are non-exsistent and I just so badly wish I didn’t need it to get into nursing 🙁

  4. Ive

    I stumbled upon this site. I was in Nursing school 6 years ago and I dropped out because I failed math. Recently, I have been applying to several colleges and I was told by college admission I need to upgrade couple of courses and since I did not have the adequate math as prerequisite it may affect my application. I missed Nursing terribly and I regret dropping out and now I could not be accepted because of my failure. I am not getting any younger I am already 45 years of age and I went to pursue another program but my heart is still in Nursing. Sometimes I look at my stethoscope and wonder if I ever will be a Nurse.

  5. Dana Gump

    I already have a Bachelor degree in history and I want to go back for a BSN to work in a NICU. I have such a hard time with math that I had to take a developmental math class before I was eligible to take my math class and I took a philosophy class to fill the requirement. I don’t want to start this if I’m not able to finish it. I’m trying to be realistic not pessimistic.

  6. Lin

    Hello Nicole,
    Thank you for your insight. Although I am yet to get into the nursing program, I am already worried because I HATE math and completely suck at it. My 8 year old does a better job than I do. I can’t even look over her work. I can’t go beyond additions. That’s how bad it is.

    1. cheron washington

      I felt this I am in nursing school and I am struggling bad with math I have taught my self how to do some of the fractions again but I am struggling to remember my multiplication. I think I have math phobia

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