A Mind for Numbers Summary By Barbara Oakley

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) is a book that offers insights into how our minds process information.

Packed with strategies, it explores effective ways to learn math and science – even if these concepts don’t come naturally to you.

This book provides an inspiring look at the power of dedication and perseverance and helps readers realize their potential in mastering mathematical or scientific principles.

A Mind for Numbers

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

Author(s): Barbara Oakley

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Categories: Science

Author Bio

Barbara Oakley is an incredible figure in the world of learning and education.

She is an Engineering professor at Oakland University, holds a Fellowship from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal for her writing.

Oakley's book, A Mind For Numbers, was written to provide readers with concrete strategies on how to improve their learning capabilities, no matter what subject they are studying.

This book contains proven advice on different methods of approaches and techniques to understanding difficult concepts better.

By providing simple explanations and insights into various topics and recommending practical strategies such as chunking, time management, self-testing and goal setting -Oakley equips readers with valuable resources that can help them succeed in any subject!

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


Do you find math and equations daunting? Never fear!

Barbara Oakley’s book, A Mind for Numbers can help you awaken your inner mathematician.

Barbara herself had difficulty with science and maths in school, but eventually realized that she needed these skills to pursue her career goals.

In her book, she shares easy-to-implement methods and exciting tricks to make learning maths and science easier.

What you’ll also find out is why taking the occasional nap or giving your mind some rest benefits your learning process; the importance of setting aside play time; and that sometimes it isn’t being a genius that’s the most important thing when learning maths.

With this knowledge, you’ll gain confidence in tackling your next maths/science issue!

The Power of Combining Focused and Diffuse Thinking for Optimal Learning

The human brain has two distinct ways of thinking: the focused and the diffuse modes.

In focused mode thinking, we concentrate on information that is already embedded in our minds.

We tend to use this mode when dealing with familiar or comfortable topics.

Examples include multiplying numbers if you already know how to do it, or conjugating a language verb from last week’s lesson.

This type of thinking is important for studying math and science because you need to be able to focus your attention to be able to solve problems effectively using rational and analytical thought.

Diffuse mode thinking requires us to relax our attention and let our minds wander in order to gain a more holistic understanding of something new.

It is essential when trying to make sense of complex topics or coming up with legitimate solutions.

To illustrate this point, one example could be that if you were presented with the sentence ‘Thiss sentence contains threee errors’, may very easily spot the first two obvious errors in spelling but will only realise there is no third error by taking a step back and considering its broader context; an approach that can only be achieved by insightfully tapping into your diffuse mode pattern-recognition capabilities.

The Benefits of Alternating Between Focused and Diffuse Modes of Thinking, and the Role of Sleep in Learning

Role of Sleep

It is evident that focused and diffuse thinking, as well as sleep, are all fundamental to successful learning.

We can’t be in both modes at the same time but switching between them is essential for our learning journey, of understanding a concept and finding solutions.

When in a period of ‘not-thinking’- which is done in diffuse mode – bigger picture insights are attained, which are consolidated when we turn our attention back to the problem.

The volleying of information actually works towards a solution.

Sleep is involved too, as our brains can’t understand and remember new concepts if it’s constantly working; rest is required to reinvigorate it and whatever we learn before sleep has a higher chance of sticking with us.

Toxic products created in the brain from too much wakefulness are cleared away when we’re sleeping, so this process keeps our brain healthy for efficient learning.

The Power of Chunking: Unlocking Your Brain’s True Learning Potential

If you want to gain expertise in math and science, you need to learn how to chunk information.

Chunking is a mental ability that allows our brains to process information more efficiently by breaking it down into groups of related ideas.

This helps us remember and use the information as we go along.

For example, when we see the letters p, o, and p together, our mind processes them as one conceptual chunk or word that has meaning: pop.

As we learn math and science topics, we build a library of chunks that help our brain recall concepts quickly.

Then when we’re trying to solve problems and puzzles, those chunks help us recognize not just individual problems, but different types of classes of problems too.

To effectively learn and form these chunks in our brain, focus on understanding key ideas and practice going over them regularly.

This also involves taking all the concepts you already know about a subject matter then getting an understanding of how they work together within the same context.

We must understand the problem thoroughly before looking at its solution – otherwise, there’s no point in looking at it!

By practicing recall (mentally retrieving main ideas) while studying can hold even more benefits than simply rereading or skimming material.

So if you want to master math or science topics with efficiency and accuracy like no other – make sure you’re chunking and recalling your learning material along the way!.

Stop Procrastinating and Start Enjoying Learning: How to Overcome the Urge to Avoid Math and Science

 Math and Science

Learning math and science can feel like a daunting task if you don’t have a plan to tackle it, but there is an easy way to prevent procrastination: focus on the process instead of the product.

The concept is simple — quite simply, focusing on the ongoing time spent studying rather than the end result can be beneficial in avoiding procrastination.

When you are focused on the process, rather than worrying about hitting that “end goal,” you can relax into the learning process and keep yourself from judging your progress.

It’s important to spread out your study sessions over a long period of time so that your “bricks” of information can dry – without doing this, it is impossible to learn quickly at the last minute.

Focusing on the process instead of just worrying about a deadline or an end result ultimately helps you avoid procrastination and takes away some of the stress that comes with trying to learn complex subjects.

This will help promote consistency in your studies, enabling you to get better at it over time.

Make the Most of Life—Install the Best Mental Tricks to Enhance Your Learning Experience

Mental tricks can be powerful tools to help you learn and boost your performance.

David Allen, a management specialist, said that some of the highest-performing people he knows are those who have installed the best tricks in their lives.

One way to take advantage of these tricks is by finding the right environment.

Working in places like coffee shops or libraries can help you stay focused and fend off procrastination.

Mindfulness training is another great option to improve your concentration through methods such as counting numbers.

Reframing your focus is also helpful in shifting from negative thoughts to positive ones so you stay upbeat and motivated.

Additionally, keeping a reasonable, achievable to-do list helps you gain control of yourself habits so you can step back and set priorities.

Planning for “play” time is also important – it keeps you from procrastinating and provides more chances for learning new things!

Using mental tricks along with maintaining a planner journal will allow you to make the most out of your study sessions.

Making Learning Meaningful Through Creativity and Metaphors


Learning material doesn’t have to be boring and mundane – memorization techniques can make it meaningful, memorable and even fun!

When the material becomes meaningful to you, it’s much easier to learn and recall information.

And this is where creativity comes in!

Take Newton’s second law as an example: f ma.

You could use your imagination to create a metaphor in order for yourself to remember the concept better: if you pretend that the letter f stands for ‘flying’ and m for ‘mule’, then increase in acceleration (a) would mean feeding your mule more ‘apples’!

Creating metaphors is one of the best memorization techniques.

It allows us to draw comparisons between different concepts, such as seeing electrical currents like water with voltage acting just like pressure.

Visualizing ourself as part of the concept can also help cement ideas into our mind – try imagining yourself being an electron or inside an algebraic equation.

Finally, acronyms are great for both simplifying learning material and making it more memorable.

For instance, taking four plants – garlic, rose, hawthorn and mustard – we come up with “GRHM” which can then become a familiar visual cue such as a GRAHAM cracker.

Just put it all together in a memorable sentence with some creative storytelling and see how your memories improve!

The Value of Hard Work and Practice Over Natural Intelligence

The notion that practice and persistence are often more important than intelligence has been proven by research.

In fact, it’s possible for those with average intelligence to reach the same feats as those with “naturally” gifted brains, given they’re willing to put in hard work and dedication.

Gifted people don’t necessarily have an advantage over average students, since they may struggle with having too much information stored in their short-term memory which sometimes leads them to over-think simple solutions or lose focus on the task at hand.

Whereas, average students possess the ability to move away from a tightly-packed working memory and access other portions of their minds like long-term memory– where creative ideas may be born– to generate solutions.

Practice helps cement memories into our long-term memory so that we can retrieve them when needed; allowing us to learn deeply about a subject and build our own independent thought processes for getting through difficult problems.

Therefore, enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills.

The Power of Tests: How Examining Yourself Can Lead to Improved Learning and Stress Managment

Stress Managment

Testing is often considered just a way to measure how much we know, but there is so much more to it than just that.

It turns out that actually taking tests can be an incredibly powerful learning experience – it’s called the testing effect.

Two psychologists, Julie Campbell and Richard Meyer, conducted a study to confirm this idea in 2009.

In their experiment, they showed two groups of participants a PowerPoint presentation with information they had to learn.

One group was given multiple choice questions after viewing each few slides, which provided them with an opportunity to recall what they had seen.

In the end, when given an exam at the end of the presentation, those who had been tested throughout did better overall than those who hadn’t been tested.

Even if those tested performed poorly or were given no feedback whatsoever, there was still evidence of a testing effect present – which proves how powerful it can be!

Another great benefit of testing is its ability to help us deal with stress and anxiety before exams.

Sure these symptoms may make us feel panicky and uneasy at first, but research has found that if we manage to reframe our thinking from “this test makes me scared” to “this test makes me excited to do my best” then our performance can greatly improve as a result!

Lastly, simple deep breathing exercises are also known to help increase oxygen flow in critical areas of the brain – so next time you have pre-test jitters or stressful thoughts try slowing down your breathing momentarily for instant relief!

All in all, testing is much more than just another way of assessment – it’s actually empowering experience in itself.

Wrap Up

The main takeaway from A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley is that anyone can improve their understanding of math and science with hard work and consistency.

With the right approach, even challenging subjects can become easier.

To succeed, you must focus on the process of learning, recall the principles being taught, and take breaks when necessary.

Working too hard without enough rest can burn out your mind and make it difficult to remember anything.

Regular breaks help you stay focused and motivated to keep learning – like working out a muscle, but without tiring it out.

All in all, A Mind for Numbers provides comprehensive advice for students who are seriously interested in math or science.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

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