The lessons Mathematics has taught me

Philip tells us the life lessons that he picked up while focusing on mathematics at high school, and how valuable this has proven now, and will be in the future.

Illustration by Cayla Basson

To begin with, I would like to emphasize that mathematics has never been something that has come naturally to me. Mathematics was a major area of struggle for me, and upon reaching high school, I decided to focus on the subject. This decision proved to be extremely worthwhile for my development as a person, on which I will further elaborate.

At the start of high school, I began putting large amounts of time into mathematics. Often, I would struggle with certain concepts for days at a time. Funnily enough, time zones and the calculations associated with them, was a section of mathematics that I struggled to grasp for the longest time as a child. These longs hours spent at my desk, preparing for exams and class tests taught me the ability to focus for longer periods of time and most importantly, to persevere.

Results caused me great stress as a high school student, and to combat this, I began studying for exams very far in advance. To make sure I covered all sections properly, I would set up study plans for myself. This helped me stay calm, as I would ensure I covered all the work by the time the exam came around. This skill has proven to be invaluable to me. The ability to plan efficiently and ensure you don’t plan to do unrealistic amounts of work in one day is essential to getting through all the tasks in a day associated with university life. I am sure that this skill will be of even greater use to me as I enter the workplace and adult life.

The third skill mathematics has taught me is comprehension. During my first few exams of Grade 11, I began to realize the large number of silly errors I was making in my exam papers. After some analyzing, I identified the root of my errors in two main areas. Firstly, I was not reading my questions fully, often leaving out critical steps in an answer I got the correct answer to. Secondly, I was working too fast on easy questions to make time for the harder questions and making simple arithmetic errors due to my speed.

I began to work on these errors and found myself doing better on my exams, not only in mathematics but almost all my subjects. The ability to clearly read a question and extract the most critical information in a time-pressured situation has without a doubt become an invaluable skill for my development as a human. I have noticed this firsthand in conversations with my peers as I have become better at remembering critical information from conversations than I was in the past.

Finally, mathematics as a study area has taught me the ability to critically think about situations. I have not always been the rational person I am today. As a child and early teenager, I was extremely affected by emotions and other people’s opinions. However, while spending time solving mathematical problems in a systematic way, my ability to think rationally about political, social, and academic situations drastically improved. I feel less influenced by emotions and rather find myself seeking proof and logical arguments for events

This is a nice article, highlighting the powerful ways that studying mathematics can be valuable. It is clear, well written and will be useful to other students.

Philip de Bruyn

Student at Stellenbosch University (Year 1) BSc Computer Science Lecturer: Dr Sophie Marques

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