A lot of people are scared of math. I was scared of math today, because a new student of mine needed help with this problem:

“Solve the equation below algebraically by first re-writing the left side of the equation as a single cosine function with a phase displacement. ”

5 cos(x) – 8 sin (x) = 3

Huh??

I’m the math tutor! I’m supposed to know how to do this stuff!!! But….it’s been 24 years since I last needed to know how to do a problem like this, and my neurons trimmed that skill a looooong time ago.

I had two choices in this situation. I could give up and recommend that my student look for a more knowledgeable tutor, or I could tell my student that I’d need some time to get up to speed on that particular topic and that we could go over it during our next session. I decided to have a little confidence in myself and go with the latter.

I had some time to sit down today and try to figure out how to do this problem. First, I went to my go-to math help website, khanacademy.org for a refresher on trigonometric functions. (If you haven’t tried Khan Academy yet, go check it out right now! If you are good at learning from videos, you may never need a tutor again!)

Once I was starting to remember the basics, I tried a little Wolfram Alpha to see if knowing the answer to the problem would help me understand how to solve it. I was temped to pay extra to see the step-by-step solution process, but thought I would try a few other things first.

Next, I did a google search of “write an equation as a single cosine function with a phase displacement” and came up with a very helpful example for how to solve a similar problem. I was able to apply their example steps to the problem above and actually came up with an answer.

Finally, I went to my other go-to math website desmos.com to use their online graphing calculator and check if my answer was indeed correct. My answer was mostly right!! I had just forgotten that when dealing with trigonometric functions, there will be multiple correct answers – I had only found one.

And that, my friends, is what makes math so darn fun. That feeling you get when you come up with a correct answer after a nice bout of hard work and determination – it is like no other.

If you feel like you are bad at math, give yourself a little credit! Maybe it’s been a few years since you last used that part of your brain. Maybe your teacher talks faster than your brain can listen. Maybe you are a little rusty with your multiplication facts. Maybe long division doesn’t make any sense to you. Maybe you have absolutely no idea what a problem is even asking you to do.

Whatever your particular battle with math is, know that you can conquer it. Whether you ask your teacher for help, go online, or hire a private tutor, there are resources out there to help you! All it takes from there is a little time, a lot of persistence, unwavering confidence in yourself, and practice, practice, practice! Never let a fear of math stop you from greatness!