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

(This is a guest post from Wyzant.com, 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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