A Mind for Numbers Book Summary - A Mind for Numbers Book explained in key points
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A Mind for Numbers summary

Barbara Oakley

How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra)

4.3 (202 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley is a practical guide that offers science-based techniques to help overcome learning difficulties and effectively learn math and science.

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    A Mind for Numbers
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    The human brain has two ways of thinking: the focused and the diffuse modes.

    Imagine a flashlight with two settings: it can intensely focus its beam on one small area, or it can spread its light less powerfully, but more broadly.

    Our brains work in a similar way. They can switch between two kinds of networks or functions.

    First, there’s the focused mode. This is when we concentrate on information that’s already tightly embedded in our minds. We usually use the focused mode for concepts we already find familiar or comfortable.

    Focused mode thinking is essential for studying math and science. We use it to direct our attention to solving problems using rational and analytical thought.

    For example, you use focused mode thinking when you multiply numbers (assuming you already know how to multiply). If you’re studying a language, you might use it to incorporate the verb conjugation you learned last week.

    Our second way of thinking is diffuse mode thinking. Diffuse mode is what happens when you relax your attention and let your mind wander a bit. We use it to get a “big picture” understanding of something.

    Diffuse mode is also important for learning math and science. It allows you to gain new insights into problems you’ve been struggling with.

    When trying to understand something new, it’s better to not focus on one thing. Use your “big picture” diffuse mode of thinking instead.

    Consider this sentence: Thiss sentence contains threee errors. The first two errors – in spelling – are easily noticeable when using a focused approach.

    But the third error? The third error – that the sentence is untrue because there is no third error – only becomes clear when we use the diffuse approach to consider the sentence more abstractly. Focused and diffuse thinking both have their purposes.

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    Key ideas in A Mind for Numbers

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    What is A Mind for Numbers about?

    A Mind for Numbers offers insight into the way our brains take in and process information. It outlines strategies that can help you learn more effectively, especially when it comes to math and science. Even if mathematical or scientific concepts don’t come naturally to you, you can master them with the right kind of dedication and perseverance – and this book will teach you how.

    A Mind for Numbers Review

    A Mind for Numbers (2014) is a fascinating exploration of the science behind effective learning and problem-solving. Here's why you should definitely give this book a read:

    • It offers practical techniques for improving your math and science skills, making it a valuable resource for students and lifelong learners.
    • Through personal anecdotes and relatable examples, the book demystifies the learning process, showing you that anyone can become proficient in these subjects.
    • With its emphasis on brain-friendly strategies and actionable advice, the book keeps you engaged and motivated to apply the techniques in your own learning journey.

    Best quote from A Mind for Numbers

    There are hidden meanings in equations, just as there are in poetry.

    —Barbara Oakley
    example alt text

    Who should read A Mind for Numbers?

    • Anyone interested in math
    • Anyone interested in science
    • Anyone who wants to get better at studying and retaining information

    About the Author

    Barbara Oakley is an engineering professor at Oakland University and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She’s written extensively about learning strategies, and her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal.

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    A Mind for Numbers FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Mind for Numbers?

    The main message of A Mind for Numbers is that anyone can learn math and science with the right strategies and mindset.

    How long does it take to read A Mind for Numbers?

    The reading time for A Mind for Numbers varies, but it generally takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Mind for Numbers a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Mind for Numbers is a valuable read for anyone struggling with math or science. It provides practical techniques and insights to improve learning and problem-solving skills.

    Who is the author of A Mind for Numbers?

    The author of A Mind for Numbers is Barbara Oakley.

    What to read after A Mind for Numbers?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Mind for Numbers, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Learn Like a Pro by Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe
    • How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
    • Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
    • How to Speak Machine by John Maeda
    • Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg
    • 12 Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson
    • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith