Picture
Okay, so I can't pretend I haven't noticed that when most people hear I do math, they say, "Oh, I hate math!"  And it doesn't escape my attention that most of the students I tutor don't really like math even if they're good at it.  The fact is, most people don't think math is very important.

A student I worked with the other day said that her least favorite subject was math because she didn't like having to do problems and learn concepts that she would never use again.

Yes, I admit that most of the math we learn in high school seems pretty useless.  I have never been a fan of "realistic" word problems like the oft parodied "two trains leave a station" problem.  And most of the techniques we learn in high school are techniques we will never use again.  So, where are we going with this?  What redeeming qualities can be found in the math we learn in school?

Part of the problem is that we're looking at math too narrowly.  What we learn in math class is not simply how to solve for x.  We're learning how to look at a problem we've never seen before and figure out how to solve it.  As it turns out, this is an extremely important skill in almost every profession.

So when you think it doesn't matter how you do on the math section of the SAT or the ACT because you're going to be an English major, you're wrong.  Colleges care about your math score because it's an indication of your ability to solve problems, not an indication of your ability to do math.  

Here's an interesting fact: math and physics majors score highest on the LSAT (the Law School Admission Test).  On average, math and physics majors score 160 (the highest score is 180).  In contrast, pre-law students rank next-to-last for LSAT scores, with an average of 148.3.

What do Abstract Algebra and Complex Analysis have to do with defending a client in court?  Almost nothing.  So why do math majors do so well on the LSAT?  Math majors do well for the same reason that philosophy majors come in second with an average score of 157.4.  Both majors train students to think critically and solve complex problems.  The LSAT doesn't test your knowledge of law--that's what law school is for.  The LSAT is designed to weed out students who don't know how to think like lawyers--that is, it filters out students who don't know how to take a problem, apply logic and reason, and find an answer.  Now, that sounds like a pretty useful skill for anyone to possess.



Leave a Reply.

    Author

    Kelly Patton has somehow completed 20 years of formal mathematical education with her love of math intact.  She wishes every person were so lucky, so that's why she writes this blog.