Math and Motivation

Like many human endeavors, Math is one subject that requires motivation to excel.

There is this inspirational story that I found on

With no interest in studying and thoroughly convinced he will never do well, M Thirukkumaran was on a downward spiral in secondary school and was almost retained in Secondary One and Two.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, Thiru, 23, is now studying Business Analytics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) under NEA and PUB’s National Environment and Water (NEW) Scholarship.

What turned Thiru a full 180 degrees around? It was the first taste of success, through the efforts of a teacher, Mr Tan Thiam Boon.

In Secondary Three at Monfort Secondary School, Thiru felt that he had hit rock bottom. During a rudimentary algebra test, he scored one mark out of a total score of 50. Instead of shaking his head in disbelief and despair, his mathematics teacher, Mr Tan, went out of his way to coach Thiru after school. But his efforts were in vain.

“Mentally, I had already accepted that I would not be able to do it,” said Thiru.

Undeterred, Mr Tan encouraged Thiru to pay full attention for the next topic, Trigonometry. Dejected and with little left to lose, Thiru came early to sit at the front of the class and followed the lesson attentively. About a week later, Mr Tan distributed the results of a test starting from the lowest to the highest scorers.

Thiru recalled the incident with great clarity.

“Naturally, I had expected my name to be the first to be called. But it was not and I was afraid my paper was lost. But instead, it was the last name called! I still remember the smile on Mr Tan’s face, and the confusion on everyone else’s that day. I sat dumbfounded. Mr Tan had managed to do what nobody else had. In one fell swoop, he eliminated the negative labels that society and I had placed on myself, and reinstated my confidence.  More importantly, he showed me that I was capable, that I wasn’t a “delinquent” or a failure. It was akin to recovering from blindness.”

That initial spark ignited a passion, drive and desire to test his potential and accomplish what he did not even dare to imagine before. Thiru topped his class in mathematics and did well at the N-level and O-level examinations. At Tampines Junior College, his teachers gave him the opportunity to take H2 physics and mathematics, even though he did not take the prescribed secondary school subjects. Thiru’s hard work and determination paid off, often in the top 5% of the cohort for the regular examinations, and emerging as one of the college’s top students at the A-level examinations.

As a tutor, I know this is not easy. I have coached students from Fail to A grade. However,  1/50 is a really bad fail, and to achieve A in a matter of months requires extreme effort short of a miracle. For Thiru to overcome his challenges and extremely weak Math foundation to achieve his amazing accomplishments, required a motivational figure in the form of his Math teacher.

Such motivational teachers are rare, and I am glad that Thiru has found his mentor.

Helen Exley — ‘Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled This could change your life.’ Books are another source of motivation. For those who have not yet found their motivational figure, do not wait as true motivational teachers are few and far between. To encounter one like Thiru requires luck and good fortune. However, good motivational books are there and available if you look for it. I have compiled a list of Motivational Books for the Student, which is available by clicking on the link.

In Math, you must always believe that you can solve the answer, in order to solve it. Just like Thiru, if you believe in yourself, you can do it! A nice book to read about Math and Motivation is Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. Ideal for teenagers, this book features an award winning actress who struggled with math, but later overcame her fears to be one of the top in UCLA Math faculty. Even Terence Tao praised her.


Author: mathtuition88

Math and Education Blog

2 thoughts on “Math and Motivation”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: