For some reason, I seem to have a block when it comes to algebra problems. As soon as I looked at the problems on my algebra final, I concluded that I couldn’t possibly solve them. But it simply wasn’t true. They weren’t all that hard. I just spent too much time thinking that I wouldn’t be able to solve them until I thought about the problems themselves and solved them. I don’t have this problem with any other branch of mathematics. What can I do about it? I suppose it’s not too much of a problem if I can solve them in the end, but it is a bit unpleasant.

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About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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4 Responses to

  1. okb says:

    I did the same thing — freaked out at the beginning and went “oh no I’m doomed”. But then I figured them mostly out. I may have left a detail or two out of the definitions and I couldn’t quite finish one proof, but I actually answered the requisite number of questions.

  2. gompers says:

    i have that problem in just about any subject except for math. well, unless it’s math i don’t know. for me, it’s just that people say the subject is so hard that i end up believing them and not having the confidence to solve them. if it’s a mental block, i’d just take a 5-second breather where you close your eyes and breathe deeply. if it’s a confidence thing, i’d just say in my head “fuck you, algebra, fuck you”, and restart by rereading the problems.

    • Anonymous says:

      lol… that’s kinda funny… I don’t curse at math – I just pick up a book like by Ayn Rand, read for 10 minutes, and go back to it with objectivism in mind, even tho it has nothing to do with math… but I usually have no brain blocks in any subject but math – where i have all the brain blocks…

  3. teratoma says:

    perhaps algebra problems are more open-ended
    i have not taken graduate math courses but of what i have studied in high school it seems to be the case that with other basic problem types (number theory, combinatorics, geometry, uh thats it i guess) there is a set list of methods that ought to be applied, at least one of which will elegantly solve the exercise. e.g. with a number theory problem the first thing you will do, almost always, will be to apply modulo arithmetic under some small base or using one of the constants given in the problem. then you will be using induction, or however it goes.
    in combinatorics, your first impulse will be to think “what are the holes.”
    in geometry you will think of what transformation to apply and if that doesnt come out neatly then you will look for similarity, then cyclic quadrilaterals, and if all else fails, you will express all lengths trigonometrically and if that fails you will write it down in coordinates.
    algebra is complete trial and error with random symbolic manipulation and you are forced to cramp your hand by writing variations on the same shit over and over again. i make clerical errors when i do this which means 2-3x the work. fuck you, algebra, fuck you.

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