Book Review of “A Mind For Numbers: How To Excel At Maths And Science” by Dr Barbara Oakley

Reading time: 5 minutes



Hola buenas personas!* Thank you for joining me for the last blog of September 2016! This week I will be reviewing the excellent “A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Maths and Science” by Dr Barbara Oakley! But in my humble wisdom, I’ve decided to do things slightly differently… In last week’s post “The One Hour Method That Drastically Improved My Coding”, I extensively covered the background of this book as it was such an important part of creating my winning strategy!

Last week I covered just two of the key points in the book – but the book is so damn good, I just wanted to unpack another couple of gems for you! I’m going to jump straight in so please, stop for now, read last week’s post and I’ll meet you back here – pinky swear!

The book weighs in at 307 pages but don’t worry – many of these pages are taken up by really helpful pictures & diagrams and Dr Oakley’s breezy, relaxed conversational style keeps you engaged throughout. There are so many ideas within this book that I could literally do you five blog posts on each of them, but here is a quick medley of some of the absolute diamonds on offer.

Become a Zombie


If I saw this in real life, I would run…

Zombie? Does that mean you should join the cost of the “Walking Dead?” Nope. Dr Oakley talks about how the power of habit is critical in real learning. A ‘habit’ is a learned behaviour, where when triggered, we carry out a particular action without even thinking about it. For example, when your alarm clock triggers in the morning, you wonder to the bathroom and automatically start to brush your teeth (I certainly hope so!)

Dr Oakley describes this as “zombie mode”. Habits are energy savers or ‘hacks’ for us. If we consciously had to deliberately think of every action that we did in the day, we would be overwhelmed before we even got to go to work! Studying well requires us to develop good habits and the book describes in detail how to create these routines. This helps us beat procrastination and helps us make learning become second nature.

Big Up Your Test!

When I was in school and I heard the word ‘test’ – it was almost as if I had been told a massive asteroid was heading to earth and neither Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis nor Morgan Freeman could save the day. My palms would become sweaty, my heart would start beating and when I sat down at the exam desk, all the knowledge that I had crammed into my brain had jumped out of my head, ninja style. But Dr Oakley believes that we should love tests – tests help our recall remember? But interestingly enough, Dr Oakley believes that the way that we approach tests are totally wrong and this often makes us drop grades.


To do well in any test, not only must you ‘chunk’ the information (the what of learning) but understand the ‘bigger picture’ (the why of learning)…

We are often taught, that when taking written exams, we should try the easy questions first and once we have done those, go for the hard ones. But what research has shown is that this approach can increase anxiety & reduce performance as you have to solve the harder questions with added time pressure.

One suggestion that the book makes, is that we do the ‘hard-start-jump-to-easy’ technique. What this means is in the test, we try the hard question first and if it becomes too difficult, we switch to an easier problem. What this does is frontloads the problem in our mind (focused mode) and if the problem becomes too difficult or frustrating to solve, then when we quickly switch to an easier question. This helps us enter ‘diffuse mode’ and this gives the subconscious mind, the opportunity to work in the background on the more difficult problem. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you would just have to read the book to find out the rest!

How This Book Can Help You

The problem that I have had with some Personal Development books is that many will paint grand fantasies of “How To Learn Any Language In 10 Minutes” or “How to Become An Internet Millionaire In 7 Days” but they don’t give you any practical advice on how to apply those principles.

This is not such a book. Rarely have I read a book that gives you an absolute feast of ideas that can change your learning in such an amazing way. I took it, put a plan together and it worked absolute wonders for me! As I learn more about the nitty-gritty of computer science, Dr Oakley’s book has become a faithful friend. Not only is it thoroughly researched but it is truly inspirational, as she openly explains her own journey, starting from a complete beginner in Maths to a respected scholar. Don’t let the title of the book fool you. This book will not teach you quadratic equations or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity What it will teach you is how to learn and do it well.


Small wins eventually lead to bigger ones…

If you are truly serious about learning any new skill, especially in programming of any kind, this book will become a great friend and supporter in your journey. I cannot recommend it enough!

Thank you for reading my weekly blog. Remember to comment below & follow me on Twitter @karlwedev for all the latest developments & updates!

See You Next Thursday!

*’Hello Good People’ in Spanish – each week I will try to greet you in a different language!

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