There exist a large number of reasons why "mathematics is difficult". If one exclude "subjective reasons" such as:

"math anxiety, math fear,..."

and education factors as:

"inadapted math programs, books, teaching level, ..."

and focus only on mathematical cognitive process as:

  • difficulties in the memorization process.

  • difficulties linked to the misunderstanding of terminology.

What other reasons (in one line please) can we give?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I've found that a very big reason, at the university level at least, is that students underestimate the time commitment for study that is needed to develop mathematical expertise. This is similar to the time commitment needed to develop language fluency. Also, students are not always familiar with what it means to understand mathematics. E.g. students often think plugging things into formulas accurately is sufficient for understanding. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Bannon
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I understand. Wouldn't "Inability to link concepts" broadly apply to many areas of study? It is difficult to pin down the idea of "cognitive process", isn't it? Someone more qualified than I am would need to answer this... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Bannon
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 15:16
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ There is less to memorize in math than in most fields, so that shouldn't top your list, or even be on your list. I think I disagree with your second item also. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 15:50
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ To build on Sue's comment, "Thinking that math involves mostly memorization" could itself be at the top of the list of difficulties. (Professorial colleague of mine: "I went into math because it had the least memorization of any field I could find."). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ According to this Working Memory and Mathematics article, "Working memory refers to a mental workspace, involved in controlling, regulating, and actively maintaining relevant information to accomplish complex cognitive tasks (e.g. mathematical processing)". So, it's difficult to believe that memory play a minor role in the construction of mathematical reasoning. $\endgroup$
    – sapienz
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 6:54

3 Answers 3


difficulty in understanding the interrelation of mathematical constructs.


difficulty of fitting a mathematical problem on just one line


difficulty in compressing the problem to a communicable slogan



Gaps in basic knowledge which make progressing difficult


Difficulty to keep the thinking abstract e.g. using symbols instead of "real" world objects


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.