Why do I struggle with Algebra?

Eoghan O'Leary

A very smart guy I know once said to me “I was good at Maths until they took out the numbers and replaced them with letters; after that everything got a bit confusing.” Many students experience something similar. The reason is straightforward if not obvious. Algebra is very different from the Maths we study in primary school, which is mainly arithmetic and often involves mental computation. Algebra is more abstract and involves a series of steps before you can arrive at the answer. You must learn the system that is involved in solving algebraic equations and then use that system to solve more and more complicated questions.
Where the difficulty arises for many students who are good at arithmetic is that they can figure out the answers to the easier algebra questions without ever using the series of steps explained by their teacher. Eg. if the question is: Solve 2x-6=10, many students can quickly figure out that the correct answer is x=8. However, being able to do these questions in your head doesn’t help when you get to more difficult questions eg: Solve 2x3+3x2 -5x-6=0. Therefore, it is vital that students learn and practice the basic steps involved in solving simple algebraic equations.

If you know you are struggling with algebra when you are in Senior Cycle, the only option is to tackle it straight.

 This often involves going back, relearning and practicing the basics to make sure you will have a clear understanding which will help you with the more difficult questions. You will be glad you did because algebra comes into every other topic on Leaving Cert Maths, so the work you put in here will be worth it!