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Barbara Oakley

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science

A Mind for Numbers:  How to Excel at Math and Science

Part I:  Description

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

In "A Mind for Numbers," Dr. Barbara Oakley tackles the widespread belief that some people are simply "not math people." She draws on neuroscience and her own journey from self-professed math-phobe to engineering professor to offer practical strategies for mastering even the most challenging STEM subjects.

Key Concepts in "A Mind For Numbers"

  • Focused vs. Diffuse Thinking: Oakley explains two distinct modes of thinking and how to harness them for optimal learning.

  • The Power of Chunking: Breaking down complex concepts into manageable "chunks" makes them easier to understand and retain.

  • Spaced Repetition: Revisiting material at strategic intervals reinforces learning and combats forgetting.

  • Overcoming Procrastination: The book provides techniques to break free from procrastination and build effective study habits.

  • The Importance of Mindset: Oakley emphasizes that belief in your ability to learn is as important as any study technique.

Who Should Read "A Mind for Numbers"

This book is ideal for:

  • Students struggling with math or science courses.

  • Adults who want to improve their STEM skills for career advancement.

  • Anyone who wants to understand how the brain learns and develop more effective learning strategies.

Part II:  Common Questions

1. I'm terrible at math. Can this book really help me?

  • Answer: Yes - Oakley specifically designed the book for those who feel that math and science are beyond their reach. She breaks down the learning process step-by-step and shows that anyone can develop these skills with the right approach and effort.

2. Does the book offer techniques for other subjects besides math and science?

  • Answer: Yes - While the focus is on STEM subjects, the learning strategies in "A Mind for Numbers" can be applied to a wide range of fields. The techniques for mastering complex concepts, memory, and overcoming procrastination are universally helpful.

3. How does "A Mind for Numbers" address the fear of math?

  • Answer: The book tackles math anxiety head-on. Oakley acknowledges this common barrier and offers strategies to shift your mindset. She emphasizes the importance of believing in your own potential and combating negative self-talk.

4. I don't have much time to study. Can I still benefit from this book?

  • Answer: Yes! Oakley provides strategies for maximizing learning efficiency and making every study session count. The techniques for focused thinking and spaced repetition are designed to help you learn more in less time.

5. Is this book only for students?

  • Answer: Not at all! "A Mind for Numbers" is valuable for anyone who wants to improve their learning abilities, whether for personal growth, returning to school, or tackling new challenges in their career.

Part III:  Additional Books Of Interest

"Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel:  

  • This dives deeper into the science behind effective learning strategies, offering practical techniques for memory retention and knowledge application.

"Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career" by Scott Young:  

  • This book presents a framework for self-directed, intensive learning projects and rapid skill acquisition, aligning with the growth mindset promoted in "A Mind for Numbers."

Coursera's "Learning How to Learn" course:  

  • This popular online course, co-taught by Barbara Oakley, expands on the concepts in "A Mind for Numbers" and offers additional tools for becoming a more effective learner.

The Khan Academy website ( 

  • This free platform provides engaging lessons and practice exercises on various subjects, especially math and science, making it a great companion to "A Mind for Numbers."

The Art of Learning podcast by Josh Waitzkin: 

  • This podcast explores learning strategies and mindsets of high achievers, with themes of meta-learning and overcoming challenges that resonate with Oakley's book.

Part IV:  Disclaimer

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