How basic maths skills can make college students better at ‘adulting’
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How basic maths skills can make college students better at ‘adulting’

How basic maths skills can make college students better at ‘adulting’

Can you answer the following question?

“Out of 1,000 people in a small town, 500 are members of a choir. Out of these 500 members in the choir, 100 are men. Out of the 500 inhabitants that are not in the choir, 300 are men. What is the probability that a randomly drawn man is a member of the choir?”

It could determine just how good you are at adulting, one part of the skills and knowledge we need to make it in the world with no Mum or Dad present.

If you answered correctly, you are considered highly numerate, or highly skilled with numbers. Innumerate people, on the other hand, are not proficient in mathematics. (The answer, by the way, is 25 percent)

What has this got to do with college students and ‘adulting’?

Well, the secret link between good maths skills and adulting well is confidence.

Writing in The Conversation, researchers Ellen Peters and Brittany Shoots-Reinhard said that good maths skills led to better decision-making processes, like thinking about and trusting numbers more instead of relying on stories or emotions, but this still isn’t enough.

“Being numerate doesn’t guarantee you’ll use numbers well in decisions, though. Confidence matters too. We measure numeric confidence with questions like “How good are you at working with fractions?”

“More numerically confident people stick longer with even tedious or difficult mathematical tasks. For best outcomes, you need to use numbers correctly, and you need to persist when the going gets tough. That is, you need to be numerate and you need to be numerically confident,” they explained.


High confidence in numeric skills led to fewer good outcomes (78 percent compared to 82 percent among those who did well in the maths test and had confidence to match). Although the difference is small, it can have a “big impact on how well someone is doing financially”. The researchers’ analysis found for example, that “a person would have to make about US$94,000 in additional annual income for that same four percent difference in financial outcomes to emerge”

College students, especially those in their first year away from home, are a prime example of those who would struggle with adulting. Having had no experience living independently and dealing with bills and their personal health, even the most mundane tasks can be ignored to their peril.

The internet is filled with plenty of guides on how to be better at adulting. You can start a daily exercise regime, hoard promo codes and discounts, refer to these 19 charts or even take ‘Adulting Classes’ for millennials.

If you’re looking for something more cognitive-related, check out the advice from these researchers on how to be better at maths.

It starts with understanding your skills; acknowledging that your maths skills are good or accepting that they need more work. The researchers suggested asking for help from someone like a financial planner.

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If you find planning your finances baffling (and you’re not alone in this!), seek help from financial planners or even a college counsellor. Source: Shutterstock

On that same vein, ask for more helpful communication of numbers, too. That means getting your family and friends to translate figures – 1 out of 100,000 versus 0.001 percent, for example – so it’s easier for you to understand and make decisions.

The final piece of advice is to “practice, practice, practice”. The researchers suggest working on simple maths like addition and subtraction, getting feedback and staying positive about your abilities.

Doing all these things can make you “feel good about yourself even while you attempt to get better at something that challenges you, like math,” the researchers wrote.

“Many older adults are facing health issues and retirement with insufficient finances. We believe that improving numeracy, numeric confidence and their match will help younger generations to plan better.”

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