Six Reasons for a Sudden Drop in Math Grades Of Your Child

Six Reasons for a Sudden Drop in Math Grades

By James H. Choi
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“All happy families are all alike;
every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”
–Leo Tolstoy, the first line of Anna Karenina–

“All good math students are alike;
every bad math student becomes bad in one of 6 ways.”
— James H. Choi–


When you open a newspaper, it seems there are only troubles and accidents in this world. When you listen to a math teacher, it would seem all students are falling into dangerous mathematical traps. After all, no respectable newspaper would report that “absolutely nothing happened to the vast majority of people today,” nor would a competent math teacher get a call from a stranger proclaiming, “My daughter is doing very well in math and we don’t need you!”


As a math teacher, most calls I get go this way:


“My son’s math grade is going down! Do you know why?”
“It depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“On many things.”
“Many things, you say?”
“Yes. For example, are all of his grades going down or just his math grade?”


1. Biological stage:

“Blood is thicker than water,
and hormones even thicker.”
–James H. Choi–

If all of his grades were going down, then it is probably not a math problem. The hormone factory runs in full gear at the high school age. As the students’ heights, tastes, hobbies, interests and even values go through changes, it would be strange indeed if only their interest in mathematics remained intact. The interest in mathematics may share the same fate of childhood toys and dolls.

This is a highly insecure age and, perhaps as a result, an age of revolt. They will fight to win their freedom from parents’ authority, only so that they can submit themselves to their peers’ authority. At this age, the definition of truth is “All my friends do it, too.”

I am not sure of what can be done to fight this awesome force of nature, if it has to be fought at all. Mathematical ability doesn’t seem to be very important in reaching the ultimate goal of life, which is supposed to be happiness. Besides, who you know is supposed to be more important than what you know. Perhaps socializing and befriending are indeed more important than anything else. After all, the world is full of successful and happy people who proudly claim their mathematical incompetence. The question is more philosophical than mathematical. I shall leave the solution to the philosophers and poets.


Only the math grades are going down; he is a smart student. I am not sure why he is suddenly struggling,” the mother said.
“Did he ever say that he hates the class or the teacher?” I asked.

2. Social Situation:

“Don`t let school interfere with your education.”
–Mark Twain–


Two important social factors affecting students’ math grades are their teachers and friends.

The effect of bad teachers needs no mention. It is hard enough to study with the finest teachers. Having a bad teacher makes every step an uphill battle. A transition from a good teacher to a bad one is jarring psychologically and creates a noticeable change on a report card.

Bad teachers come in three varieties: ignorant, indifferent and unlikable.

When teacher’s knowledge is substandard, then it is no surprise the students end up ignorant as well. Worse, the students reach a state of ignorance through a path of endless confusion and frustration, muddying the water, making future learning more difficult.

Other teachers know their subjects but present them in such mind-numbing manners that the lesson disengages the students. With such indifferent teachers, students are left on their own to learn the material.

A teacher’s likeability is just as important as competence or enthusiasm. Likeability is usually linked to the scholastic competence and pedagogical passion the teacher displays, but it could also be linked to some other force of nature. When a student likes his teacher, his grade generally improves. The reverse is also true. Thus, math grades might suffer from the student’s purely personal dislike for his teacher.
And, of course, there are unique teachers that embody ignorance, indifference and dislikeability all in one, making them singularly effective in lowering students’ math grades.

There is not much I can advise or suggest here because, by and large, public school teacher selection is done by that overpowering force in our life: luck. And also, if this problem could be fixed easily, the whole test-preparation and tutoring industry would never have existed in the first place. But for those who want to take action, I would like to recommend the following book: Bad Teachers by Guy Trickland for advice on how to deal with the school’s bureaucracy.

I’d also like to wish you what matters the most: good luck.


“No, he likes his math teacher,” the mother replied.
“What is he learning in math now?” I asked.
“I am not sure, I would have to ask.”
“Did he just start geometry?”

3. Content Change:

“Change alone is unchanging.”
–Heraclitus(c.540-c.475 BC) Greek philosopher–


Mathematics is a collection of many different disciplines. Although they all use logical reasoning and build upon one another, some use abstract, spatial, or arithmetic skills. Throughout high school, students go through several transitions within math that can be jarringly disruptive.

The transition into geometry is particularly difficult for some. In the United States, the typical high school curriculum suspends algebra after one year to teach geometry, then resume algebra again, calling it algebra 2. Thus geometry starts and ends abruptly. In my opinion, this is not the best arrangement, but that’s what the higher educational power of the United States decided, and I only work here.

One might think that geometry should run in our blood by now because it didn’t change much for 2,400 years. Traveling back in time for 2,400 years, one would pass Jesus’ time and reach all the way into Buddha’s time. That’s how ancient of an art geometry is. The usual complaint (“The world is changing so quickly, I cannot keep up!”) does not apply to geometry at all.

Even so, many students find it difficult to deal with spatial relationship and the rigor of logical proof. What is frustrating is that some understand it without any difficulty. Geometry is also very difficult to teach in a classroom setting because of the natural divergence of student levels. I will write about geometry — how to prepare for it and how to study for it — in another section.

Another notable disruptive transition occurs while beginning to study probability. In the discipline of probability, you cannot test your answer by plugging it in. In fact, you cannot test the answer even if you possess all the time in the world. Probability is constructed by pure logic and can be validated or disproved only by superior logic — not by an experiment or demonstration.

If the grade drop happened during these subject transitions, then the drop is not likely to be a reflection of a student’s change, but rather of the change in use of their brain’s area. In other words, the student didn’t change, but the math world changed on him even though it is still called “mathematics.” The good news is that the student’s performance will go back to normal once he has finished these new topics. The bad news is that some subject last for a year, and others never end.

The only right answer is to admit that some topics are more difficult for some people, and after admitting this, compensate for one’s uneven gift with more effort — however unfair the concept of more effort might seem. It is worth remembering that in the end, only results matter. The effort you had to put into the subject, however inordinate, won’t dilute your achievement.


“I don’t think so,” she said. “He learned geometry already.”
“I see,” I said. “How good is he with mental calculation? Does he depend on the calculator for everything?”

4. Arithmetic Weakness:

“I cannot even balance my own checkbook! Haha!”

Arithmetic and mathematics are used interchangeably in everyday language, but they are different. Arithmetic is about addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Mathematics is about logic and solving problems. The timeless rhetoric about the inability to balance the checkbook is not about mathematics at all; it is about arithmetic. The current high school generation was raised with calculators. Perhaps as a result, their arithmetic incompetence is staggering.

Although mathematics is more than just arithmetic, arithmetic is absolutely necessary for understandingmathematics.

The current generation of high school students grew up in a world flooded with calculators, and as a result they are showing an alarmingly low level of competence with arithmetic.

Calculators by themselves are not the culprit. If one searches for studies on the use of calculators in math education, one can find many arguments in favor of the device. Indeed, calculators can be used to enhance learning. I myself use the most powerful calculator in the world in my own classes: Wolfram Research’s Mathematica software. We cannot live without calculators.

The problem is the way the calculators are used. The calculator usage habits of high school students are shocking. Many reach out for the calculator when they are faced with “12 x 2.” They do not know if 0.2 x 0.2 would be 0.4 or 0.04 without working it out, and they have difficulty telling if a division by ½ would increase or decrease the number.

The inability to perform arithmetic is a crippling deficiency, but the even bigger problem is the loss of the notion of numbers themselves. These calculator-dependent students grow so numb toward numbers they can no longer compare the relative sizes of complex numbers. This weakness will eventually bring down the student’s math grade, typically sometime between algebra 1 and algebra 2.

What is really surprising about this weak arithmetic skill is the current collective neglect in fixing it. From the teacher’s side, nothing is done to address this problem. There is no high school course on “How to compute quickly with accuracy.” In fact, arithmetic incompetence is not even recognized as a problem because students can “just use calculators.” From the students’ side, they all wish the problem away by saying, “Oh, that was just a stupid mistake.” Meanwhile, mathematics seems to get harder and harder for them, as those “stupid mistakes” become more frequent.

Arithmetic weakness is a very difficult problem to solve. It takes time, patience and determination to overcome. Yet without addressing this problem first, learning higher math would be like pouring water into a leaky jar.

I would like to be more optimistic, but typically this problem doesn’t go away without professional help. It will continue to limit the student’s mathematical performance until his last math class.


“No, he did Kumon when he was young,” the mother said. “He handles numbers easily.”
“You said his math grade is falling now,” I said. “How well did he do in previous years? Did he get perfect scores? Did he sometimes get a B?”

5. Mathematics Foundation:

“Success depends upon previous preparation,
and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

More than any other discipline, mathematics is built upon a clear sequence, with well established dependencies among its concepts. For example, solving second-degree equations is impossible without first understanding first-degree equations. Solving a probability problem is impossible without first knowing how permutations work. There are some quasi-independent branches like geometry, but for the most part, even when a new topic deals with a radically new concept, it still utilizes many of the previous concepts and builds upon them.

This is why it is common to see students getting worse grades in mathematics, yet it is rare to see a student getting better. Once the math foundation is weak, anything built upon it is shaky. When a tough test like the SAT hits, delicate houses of cards will collapse.

Although a “B” is supposed to be “Good,” these days a “B” stands for “Bad.” School grades are so inflated that I find many holes in the understandings of even “A” students. Getting an “A” is no longer a sign of competence, whereas getting a “B” is a sure alarm that the student is losing grip.

Thus, getting a grade of “B” or worse in math could indicate difficult times as little as a year later. Sooner or later, something else will be built upon the concept a student is currently getting a “B” in, and the student’s understanding is likely to collapse due to the foundation’s weakness. Typically, a student tries to overcome a problem with current math curriculum by studying only the new material, but the real problem lies in what this student learned a year ago. It takes a professional math teacher to analyze a problem of this nature and direct the student to the right material to review. Without this teacher’s guidance, the student is likely to repeatedly crash into that brick wall and lose both confidence and interest after putting in so much time, which proved to be only misguided effort.


“He never got a B in math before,” the mother said. “He was not the top, but he didn’t have difficulty with math before.”
“I see. Do you know if he started precalculus or calculus?” I asked.

6. Abstraction Faculty:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
–Albert Einstein–

By definition, infinity cannot be grasped, and adding an infinitely many numbers cannot be performed even by the most advanced computers in the world. Yet students are asked to do in five minutes what super computers cannot do in 1,000 years. For example, what would be the answer to the following infinite addition that will go on until the end of the world?

or how about this one that will also keep adding until the end of the universe?

The first sum adds up to 1 only if you add until the end of the universe. If you stop in the middle, the sum will be less than 1. The second one’s answer is infinity, but only if you add all the numbers. If you stop anywhere, the answer will be very big but not infinity.

How do we know this? Did anyone actually do it once to find out? These are addition problems, but adding will never lead to the answer because you cannot finish the addition in this universe’s lifetime even on a supercomputer. Only software like Mathematica can solve it, but Mathematica doesn’t find the answer by adding: It solves the problem by applying abstraction.

So how can the tender brains of high school students be expected to perform this level of computation?

Abstraction is the answer: The brain can imagine infinity and beyond and solve this kind of problem through abstraction, or by “thinking.” However, the brain used in this type of “thinking” is very different from the one used to add numbers. Mathematics is a discipline of abstraction, not of computation. The more advanced mathematics becomes, the fewer numbers it uses. Indeed, balancing a checkbook is only arithmetic; it has nothing to do with mathematics of abstraction.

Precalculus and calculus are concepts based on abstraction. Calculators become useless at this stage. The only way to master these topics is by “getting it.”

This is the point at which studying by memorization fails. Those who used to get an “A” by memorizing formulae will begin to fail at this point. By now, there are too many formulae and concepts to be juggled. Without a coherent unifying abstraction, all these formulae, theorems, equations and topics seem to fight with each other, causing conflict and confusion. Only by mastering the abstraction can a student fit all of them will into one coherent picture, in which one concept complements another. Without reaching this enlightened state, students will continue to view mathematics as a walk in the dark.


“He didn’t start calculus yet. He said he would learn it next year,” she said.
“Then it must be precalculus,” I said.
“Do you know why his math grade is falling?”
“I think so, but I would have to talk to him to know for sure.”
“What is the problem?” she asked.
“I think it is his transition into abstraction. That could be difficult for some.” I said.
“Can he overcome it?”
“Any high school math can be taught to any motivated student.”

Fear Of Exams


Dorothy Thompsan once said, “Only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live.”

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that today’s youth or upcoming generations faces, comes in the form of something that is less threatening in its physical prospect, but more so in the mental prospect. And that, is the fear of examinations.

The fear of examinations can be justified in terms of wanting to succeed and not face failure, but statistically it is found that students today are increasingly  less confident about examinations as their predecessors. Which begs the question, why could that be?

Well there are a lot of potential answers to that.

1. Number Of Exams

One of them could be the sheer number of exams. As a means to cope with the steady increase of competition, roughly averaging a positive turnout of 10% each year, most syllabi in India are aimed at creating more exams to undertake the competition.

2. Fear Instilled by Parents

Secondly, one of the other important factor that comes into play about examinations is the fear that  parents and teachers instil in their students about them. Every student is made aware of the severe consequences of failure, which can digress the motivation which they might have internally to succeed.  

3. Fear Of Examination Hall

Another factor which is less common but still exists is the fear of examination halls. The atmosphere is completely different from a regular classroom. I have seen a few people getting nervous.


1. Its an opportunity to learn more

Examinations are extremely important in a student’s life. It puts to test their potential knowledge on a particular subject. But there should be additional emphasis on the test factor. Students should not be made to fear exams, but rather embrace the opportunity to learn more.

2. Reward System

Alternative Learning includes a reward system for every answer deemed correct on a test and the absence of one when the answer is incorrect. Perhaps adapting a similar sense of classroom and exam familiarity could eliminate the fear of examinations that students constantly face.

3. Keep It Simple

What would effectively counter exam phobia is by removing the complications of the entire process. Currently in the Indian Education System, there are over 200 mandated competitive examinations. Students who often opt to appear for this examinations have to go through rigorous rounds of examinations to really substantiate a decent score, thus putting an additional pressure as the student advances through each round.

By removing this complicated system and replacing it with a simple and more openly interpretable system, it can significantly reduce the amount of pressure that a student faces when it comes to dealing with exams, thereby exclusively eliminating the fear of it.

Sometimes fear is necessary

Despite all the negative effects that “Examphobia” poses, there is a positive side to it. A touch of fear towards something, can always imply interest. You will only fear something so long as you are motivated towards emerging victorious over it. But the real pain lies when you cannot fathom something simply because you irrationally fear it.

Therefore, it becomes extremely important that we draw a line between irrational and rational fear and let students know that it is healthy to fear something. More importantly, it is to bring awareness to the issue of examphobia.

Many students around the world feel deeply that something like an irrational fear of exams is not normal and that nobody will ever go through it. If you encounter someone like this it is very important that you comfort them about this issue and remind them that they are not alone and that every student in the world, has felt this on some degree.

Not all hope is lost by a few words on a page and not all dreams are broken by a few strokes in red ink.

Extra information:

  2. Online Exam Portal

The Future Of Education


Education is no longer just about teaching with a blackboard and a chalk. This field has surpassed being merely about boring classrooms where a teacher is teaching to a group of students. With millions of internet users worldwide and big global business tycoons willing to invest in future of field of education, online education has erupted as one big bright idea. Actually looking back a few years this idea of amalgamation of online platform and education was indigestible to people. But with technological advancement, so many varied learning areas and increase in demand of education ,online learning field has spurted out.

Online learning is a key that the world is using to open all the locks of educational sector. It gives a great amount exposure to all who want to learn varied courses but cannot pursue them by being physically present at that learning school or college. There are many reasons for its growth and fame. Online education makes learning feel more like a blessing than a curse.


Have you ever faced a situation where you want to learn something but cannot find a right university for it, or cannot take time out from your schedule, or maybe you cannot travel to pursue it? All these issues are to be faced if the case was of age old learning method. With Online learning anybody can pursue any educational course without being physically present. This type of education is same or sometimes even better in sense of quality of education that is imparted. In this type of learning many a times a course is learnt through videos and animation clips which the brain finds easy to grasp and the subject learnt is retained better than the classroom teaching. So we can say online education increases efficiency, accuracy of the matter being learnt. You may now ask that in a classroom there is an amiable environment where you can have discussions on any topic related to course. Well there is this feature available over online education portals. There are discussion pages, video doubt sessions and many more things that make you feel like you are actually in a class.  

It also gives exposure to teachers, professor or any certified individual to teach other mass of students easily without putting much effort. They just have to signup themselves on some online learning website and structure the course and assignments properly, upload them and get going.


Online education is provided by many websites and universities. The format of taking up courses online is that some of portals provide open courses that are free and some are paid. You just have to find the course and type of course suitable to you and sign up for it, Tah-Dah you are enrolled and all set to start your course. The whole format of online learning is very beneficial to a student as the course structure, time duration, the teacher that will be teaching that course all can be known before handed.

There is also feature of certification which adds up as a proof of the skill a student has acquired through attending the course. These certification are valuable and are also regarded as important in academic and corporate world. Some of the courses are also granted by world class university which if taken adds up a golden feather to your skill-hat.


With only 8.15% Indians graduated( Acc. to The Hindu) education is a pertinent part. There is one problem with education sector in India. There is shortage of almost 12 lakhs of teachers which makes classroom education unevenly distributed over a large nation. Online education on other hand is equally distributed and available to all, it is more easier to access and hassle-free. It will definitely help to overcome the problem arising from shortage of teachers.

In India where overgrowing population, less space, less time and unavailability of amenities is present online education has become a big hit. The online education and learning market reached almost $35.6 billion in 2011 and with growth rate around 7.6% the revenues would soar as high as $51.5 billion by 2017. The contribution of India is 3rd largest in this market. In India there are almost 370 million internet users. With these many people on the internet cloud and constant increase in demand for more educational qualification online learning has become the ultimate choice. Students want to get access to a world class learning experience without suffering or struggling. Many people suffering from mental or physical disabilities cannot make it to classrooms on a regular basis. For these students  there are many online courses that grant legitimate degrees programs, specialization in some skills that help them to learn and  build a brighter future.

Nowadays it is also important for a person entering the corporate world to have many extra skills apart from one or two educational degrees. Employers are more interested in selecting candidates having more “extra skills”. Being efficient with the extra skills at the same time continuing with your daily routine is a difficult task. But a nation where people are fiercely competitive you need to get on your heels and grab some of your skills and get certified to earn those brownie points. These all things would have been difficult was the online education not present. Just think about all the difficulties you would have to face to lookup for a university providing the course you are interested to take, or travelling to the place daily to attend, all the precious time that you would lose on to get yourself certified. Yes, it would more hard than it seems to sound. With easy access of internet you can easily find the best course suitable to you out of piles of parallel course and you could attend the course as per your timings. This is a much more fun way to get yourself certified. With these extra skills you can upgrade your resume which would positively affect your self-confidence, your promotion , appraisal and in short an exponential upward growth of your future.


For students wanting to pursue university courses and some school level courses these are some websites to help you:

  • TED ED
  • FollowClass

For mid- professional courses these websites are very helpful:


Bill Gates thinks this should be the future of education


Revolution of education system has already begun. The old obsolete methodologies are being replaced by new curriculum. This is what Bill gates conveyed through his blog article titled “I love this cutting edge school design. Mankind has evolved so much over the past 100 years, like man has scaled down distances by building aeroplane, man has reached to moon, he also innovated so many gadgets to make life easy. But there are some things that haven’t evolved with time and that is our same old drab- classroom methods. The classroom methods seems to have remained stagnant.

In his article he mentioned how typical classrooms used to be. The classrooms he is talking about is wherein a teacher is teaching on a chalkboard to 25 to 30 students. These classes have a limitation. Each student is unique and has different grasping ability, But these age old teaching methods generalise the learning abilities overlooking the difficulty a student faces due to this. Here the teacher is unable to understand the extent of the student’s inability to understand the matter, thus the important bridge between good teaching and learning, is not complete. Therefore, this can create several problems that can almost never be brought up in theoretical classrooms.

“Classrooms are the gateway to the growth of student’s imaginative, practical, creative and problem solving skills. But they instead have become a dark well through which a student can only see a small part of bright infinite sky. With competition and technology schools are determined to change their anachronistic classroom system and revamp it on a whole new level.”

So, some changes are to be done to correct the flaws in existing system. Along with being more academically driven, students are required to have a larger competitive, imaginative and creative side to their learning experience. The students also expect to reach their ultimate career goals and the beginning is always from classrooms. So to satisfy all these changes a new method of ‘Personalized learning’ is being introduced in some schools and colleges.


Personalized learning is the captivating innovation in the field of education that is started to being implemented in some schools and other educational institutions. Bill gates mentioned in the same article about visiting Summit sierra, a personalized-learning school in Seattle’s International District where students got personalized guidance which left him all impressed.


Personalized learning is a process where teachers and students have one to one interaction weekly or monthly where a student is guided in accordance of his goals, pace of learning and interests. Advantage of this technique is that it goes to the root level of student’s problems and provides a accurate solution. It not only lets students to work at their own pace but also ensures their academic growth. In this a weekly or a periodical objectives are set and in accordance to that mentoring is given to a student. After assessing the fulfilled objectives, student is given further guidance.In reference to the blogpost as written by Bill Gates he talks of Personalized learning using the example of a student who aspires to be a part of Washington University. Personalized Learning, Gates said, would allow the child a mentor for a period of 4 years of his high school life and give these mentors the power to adequately mold the child in all spheres that he will require, to reach his goal.

In India personalized learning is growing exponentially. Not only schools but a lot of education startups like Followclass and byju are bringing personalized learning to limelight. These kind of start-ups help in connecting the student and teachers wherever and whenever required. So by implementation of Personalized learning technique we are actually securing future of the world’s future.

Improve student’s learning capacity by 400%

Even after the best efforts by the teacher only 50 to 70% of the students understand the concept in the class. Further 30% more forget it within couple of days. How to improve on that?

Below is a proven method that increases the learning capacity of a student by 400%. With this method one hour lecture is equal to a 4 hour lecture on the same topic.  

Spaced Learning : 

Spaced Learning is a learning method in which 

“Short sharp lessons are interspersed with an entirely different activity and repeated at regular intervals. And high-speed learning is proving far more effective in helping children improve their concentration – and their grades – than conventional “chalk and talk” lessons.”

For Example –

In a 40 minute lecture, the teacher prepares a very to the point material and delivers the entire information in 10 minutes. After that the entire class does a physical activity. It can be anything. For example everyone in the class can stand up and down at their places for 2-3 minutes. While doing so, they can sing a song.

This takes their mind of learning. Everybody is laughing. After that you can repeat the content again for another 10 minutes and take a 2 minute break to do some physical activity. And after that you teach for final 10 minutes.

“This content goes into long term memory of the student.”

Traditional Roots : 

Traditionally a teacher, teaches for the entire 40 minutes. Then they ask students to revise it at regular intervals. And this results in only 30 – 50 % of students remembering it after a week. Not because the above method doesn’t work, but because they are students 😛 

 I am sure every teacher must have given this advice to its students –

“To get the content into long term memory, the student perhaps need to revise it on the same day after going home, then again after 2 days and again after a week. “

Spaced Learning is uses the same technique, just that entire week is compresses into a lecture.

A Few Numbers –

One hour session with spaced learning method is proven to be 400% more effective than traditional methods.

Call For Action –

A lot of school’s in England have already implemented this with great success. Its time to implement this in India. 

Use it for one lecture and see the results yourself.

If you used this method or any other interesting method of teaching,  let us know in the comments 🙂