Show Your Math Work

Show your math work only if you want to improve your grade and/or your math mechanics. If you’re satisfied with your current grade or your current math abilities, just keep doing what you’re doing. After all, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Why You Want To Show Your Math Work

You want to show your math work for a few reasons. We’ll start with the most selfish reason: your grade will improve over time. This is not just a result of improving your math mechanics. You need to keep in mind that your teacher, despite what you think of her/him, is a human. Yes, there might be a lot of online work and online grading. But, in the end, it’s your teacher who can determine your grade, especially in the gray area. This gray area is showing your work.

Think about it: If you had but one A grade to give in your class and two students are tied, would you give it to the one who only showed answers for work, or the one who showed all the steps to arrive at an answer? Yes, it’s obvious. Lack of work, to a teacher’s mind, could mean a couple of things: one, you don’t care; two, you didn’t do the work.

Your Teacher Is Human, No Matter What You Think

You can take this further: as humans, we are more prone to help those who help themselves. Sometimes begging is unbecoming. But, if we see someone laboring to improve their station, we’re more inclined to help them. Or, at least think well of them and see them with eyes of compassion.

This holds for your work. If you show your work on your math assignments and math quizzes/tests, your teacher/professor is more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. They see that you’re trying.

Yes, you might be getting the wrong answer, but at least there is work shown. Providing only an answer has a sense of mystery about it that borders on suspicion. This is especially so as most teachers in the pandemic are not striding the aisles and rows to see your daily progression through your math problems.

The Other Reason You Want To Show Your Math Work

If you want to learn how to do math better, someone has to see how you arrived at your answer. This someone is sometimes your teacher, your tutor, a peer. Even if you’re paranoid and see the world as against you, you need to show your work so YOU can see where you went astray.

Despite how smart you think other people might be, others cannot read your mind. They need to see the work you did. That’s how they can help identify what you’re doing wrong, where you made a mistake.

Show Your Math Work
Which student would earn full credit?

Not Showing Your Math Work Is A Crime (And You Are The Victim)

In fact, not showing math work is a perfect crime. Why is it a perfect crime? There’s no evidence of what happened!

If you don’t show your work, do not expect sympathy from your instructor.

If you claim the freedom card here, that you’re free to arrive at a math answer without having to show your work, you’re right. You don’t have to show your work. You also, as a result, don’t have to pass your math class.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Oh, and not showing work shows something else: you don’t care. Either you don’t care about the math, the teacher, the method, or others.

So, if you think you’re all that, keep just showing answers. And you’ll get what you deserve. Just don’t expect sympathy. And don’t tell me how you’re above it all. You aren’t.

Not Trying To Sound Negative

The tone of this post might sound harsh. If so, show your math work. Then you won’t have to reread it.

Show your work for a year as a thought experiment. You’ll surprise yourself with your results.

If you need a show your math work song.


By Martin

Martin McSweeney is a National Merit Finalist, Pomona College Graduate, and member of MENSA. He has worked at the Center for Talented Youth (Loyola Marymount University campus); Upward Bound (Harvey Mudd campus); various test prep companies; and Whittier High School. Now, Martin helps students of all abilities improve their relationship with math.