If you don’t already consider yourself a math person, math seems impossible. Either you get it or you don’t. But that’s not true.

Like most things in life, math is a skill that can be learned. And most of us successfully do, as long as we’re counting apples.

But once we try to count the volume of a balloon or football, we run into trouble. Now we’re forced to rely on mathematical formulas like: limits, derivatives, and integrals.

Formulas that seem like gobbledygook. Even if you know how to use these formulas to find your answer, few actually know what this mathematical gibberish actually means.

While this superficial understanding of theorems may let you solve basic mathematical problems, it won’t be enough to tackle advanced problems that ask for the use of multiple formulas.

In short, memorisation of the theorem isn’t enough. You need to understand the theorem.

Which is why math drives so many of us crazy: prerequisites.

Math is one of these weird subjects that links all of its independent concepts into a long chain. What happens when you have a long chain? You only have one starting point and very little to memorize per concept.

Which couldn’t be more different from a subject like history. If you want to learn history, you have almost an infinite amount of starting points: you can go back 2,000 years ago and read up on Ancient Rome, you can study the reign of the Kangxi Emperor in 17th century China, or pore over the Second World War from as little as one lifetime ago.

The most important part? If you want to know what happened in the Second World War, you don’t need to know anything about Ancient Rome. The two historic events are completely separate.

That’s not the case with math. Each new mathematical concept is built on its predecessor.

So suppose you miss the chapter on Ancient Rome, that won’t stop you from understanding all other historical events. But miss one chapter of calculus and your understanding of math screeches to a halt.

In that way, understanding math is much like getting onto a train. As you continue learning, the train will never run out of tracks to ride on. But as you miss out on learning, or don’t keep your wits about you, gaps will arise in your understanding and in the ‘train tracks.’ The train can’t pass those gaps until you fill them in.

This chain or track of concepts actually makes learning math incredibly easy.

Stumped by a math problem? Review the mathematical concepts you’ve learned up until now and check for holes in your understanding.

Found the hole in your understanding? You’ve found the road to success. All you need to do is stick with it.

Everyone can do math.

P.S. Here’s an example of an advanced math problem to show you that knowing the equations is not enough. Understanding the equation is a must.

Suppose two kids want to race down a mountainside using two different vehicles. One will race in an unpowered buggy, while the other is going to roll down the mountain inside a hamster ball. Both are powered solely by gravity and roll without resistance. There’s just one catch, the buggy has state of the art ‘massless’ wheels which have very little kinetic energy compared to its body. Who will win the race to the bottom of the mountain?

The equation that will lead you to the answer: K = ½ mv²