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Math can be a difficult subject for a lot of people, but world-renowned mathematician Dr. Terence Tao is here to teach you his approach to everyday problem-solving—without complex equations or formulas.
He has designed this MasterClass for the average person (even the ones who hated math growing up). He claims that you can use mathematical thinking to solve everyday problems in your life.
But does this master class live up to its promises?
That’s what you’ll discover in this review. I’ve watched the class in full, and as a non-mathematician I’ll be sharing my thoughts. I’ll try to keep it balanced and give pros as well as cons later in the article.
Without further ado, let’s jump in to the review.
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What is Terence Tao Teaches Mathematical Thinking?
The Terence Tao MasterClass is an online course that teaches people how to approach problem solving like a mathematician.
Terence Tao, a world-renowned mathematician, created this class for people who want to learn how to solve problems in a systematic way. He claims that anyone can do it with the right instruction.
The class consists of 12 easy-to-consume lectures which total to 1 hour, 33 minutes in length. There is no homework or exams, and you can watch them at your own pace.
About Terence Tao
Terence Tao is an Australian mathematician who is widely regarded as one of the greatest living mathematicians. He is a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Amongst his achievements, he’s won the Fields Medal, the Royal Medal, and the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.
Terence Tao believes that everyone has an innate ability for mathematics and in this course, he breaks down problem-solving techniques without complex equations or formulas.
His approach can be used whether you want to level up in a computer game, finally master that Sodoku, or just get to the airport on time to catch your plane.
Top benefits of this MasterClass
- It’s just one and a half hours in length, and the 12 bite-sized lectures are easy to watch – you don’t feel like you’re back in math class!
- There is no homework and no exams, and you can watch them at your own pace.
- Terence lends takes his genius-level problem-solving skills and makes them accessible to anybody
- You’ll look at the world differently after watching this MasterClass, and possibly find that you can solve problems others can’t
- Terence helps you solve everyday problems, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by moving numbers around on a page
Outline of The MasterClass
Let’s talk about what you’re actually getting in the master class. In the next section, I’m going to take you through every class one-by-one so you understand the full extent of what this course has to offer.
Lesson 1: Meet Your Instructor
The opening lesson to MasterClass offers a unique and exciting opportunity to explore mathematics in a way that is both accessible and inspiring.
Terence Tao, one of the world’s leading mathematicians, invites you to see math as a beautiful piece of art.
He also encourages you to open yourself to the idea that mathematics is an opportunity for exploration and discovery.
As a person who struggled with math in school, I was inspired by how encouraging Terence is. Now instead of thinking about “failing” I call them “experiments”.
Lesson 2: Terence Tao’s Journey
In lesson 2 of the course, Terence Tao shares a behind-the-scenes look at a mathematical life, and the difference between mathematical competitions and research.
He begins by recounting his journey to find a mentor, which led him to some of the most respected mathematicians in the world.
He then goes on to discuss how mathematicians are humans, too.
Overall, this lesson provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s most renowned mathematicians.
After watching the first two lessons, I was inspired. But in the next lesson is where the content really begins.
Lesson 3: Demystifying Math
Mathematics is often seen as a difficult and intimidating subject, one that requires the memorization of rules and formulas.
However, as Terence Tao reveals in lesson 3, math is not about sorcery or memorization, but rather about problem solving and critical thinking.
He introduces how children intuitively uncover complex math concepts like “proof by contradition” through play, even though grad students have a hard time with the concept.
We also go through another concept called abstraction, which means identifying the essential parts of a problem so you can solve it more easily.
Later we talk about the unfortunate state of the school system and how math is mistaught.
Finally, he concludes the lesson by demonstrating how understanding math makes the world less scary, because it provides you with the confidence to understand technology and how everything around us works.
By the end of this section, I already felt like I understood some math concepts and it didn’t feel like much effort at all.
Lesson 4: Math in Your Everyday Life
In lesson 4, Terence starts to get a little bit more practical and bring math problems into your everyday life.
When I went into this course I thought “what if all of the practical examples he uses apply to other people and not me?”.
But as I reached this section he said that the best way to get into math is actually through your existing hobbies.
And that was really great to hear because it meant that I could try to understand math through the things I already enjoy.
Next up he shares the surprising way that math is actually creative. In high school, I remember seeing all of these equations and it seemed so boring and stiff.
But Terence almost makes me want to give math a second chance!
Towards the end of this lesson, he shares a story of a 17th century wine merchant who could calculate volume with nothing but a stick (and without ever crunching a number).
By the end of this lesson, I started to realize just as simple math problems can really be and I already saw ways that I could apply mathematical problem-solving to my day job.
Lesson 5: Choosing the Problem to Solve
After lesson 4, you’ll be feeling enthusiastic about going out to solve every single problem using math thinking.
But hold your horses!
Because as Terence shares early in the lesson, there are right problems and wrong problems to solve. At least if you care about expanding your problem-solving skills.
Next up, he runs you through the importance of asking the right questions, and uses an example of how an airline solved their “angry customer problem” by making them wait longer to receive their luggage!
I was blown away, but it made total sense.
And after that, Terence talks about how to take a complex problem (like determining the orbit of Mars around the sun), and break it down into simple chunks that anybody can solve.
And he used a couple of examples to highlight this point. I think Terence Tao’s storytelling ability is what really sets this course apart. Because it doesn’t feel like you learning anything but you are getting graduate-level problem-solving skills.
Lesson 6: Solving Problems With Story
Speaking of story, that’s exactly the topic of this next section. In section 6, Terence Tao will blow you away by teaching her mathematics is not a completely logical discipline.
In fact, telling stories can provide valuable insights that solve “impossible equations”. Of course, you might not care about solving equations, but the same kind of insights can be used in your daily life.
To highlight an example, you’ll discover how to use a story to help you understand multiplying negative numbers.
I was shocked by what he said next.
In the next part of this lesson, he explained why “shock election results” happen. You know, when the polls predict one thing and the election results are the opposite.
Just that piece of knowledge was worth the price of admission in my opinion.
He concludes this section by warning of the downsides of narratives (and why they are probably not a problem if you just care about solving daily issues).
Lesson 7: Transforming Problems
When I saw the title “transforming problems”, I had no idea what was in store for me.
The idea behind transforming problems is that some issues seem different on the surface but are mathematically related at the core.
And transforming problems idea explains why talking a problem through can help you understand it better.
It also explains why mathematicians are not crazy when they wave their hands around like a lunatic when they’re trying to solve a problem.
And the same concept can even help you board the plane faster!
He ties a bow on this lesson by showing you a simple example of how transformation works. You’ll discover how to solve a complex mathematical game by transforming it into a game that you probably learned when you were three.
Lesson 8: Games, Cheats and Puzzles
Terence leads into this section with something called the counterfeit coin game.
I actually learned about this puzzle on a Facebook post but I didn’t know what it was called. At the time I scratched my head for 15 minutes and I could never solve the damn thing.
Well, Terence gives you the solution inside the course. But then what he said next was nothing short of astounding.
He shows you how the counterfeit coin game helped him to change the way MRIs are used on children with cancer.
Now unless you’re a PhD, you probably won’t be dealing with MRIs anytime soon. That said it just goes to show the power of mathematics in changing the world.
And if you can take these little concepts and apply them to your life will change your life too!
Lesson 9: Math Fails
This section opens with a confession.
You know how in high school you have a mathematical problem and then in the back of the book, there is a solution?
Well, what they don’t tell you is that before the person gets to the right answer, they’ve usually failed a bunch of times. And they never show you the failed solutions.
Which is a shame because these failures are actually more informative than just giving the solution.
I grew up thinking that mathematicians were some kind of geniuses. But in reality, they get so good by screwing up and learning from their failures so many times.
To back up this point, you’ll discover how failures have led to some of the world’s biggest discoveries, including penicillin and that the Earth is round.
In other words, Terence Tao teaches you there is no such thing as failure.
If you’re anything like me you will walk around looking to make mistakes after finishing this MasterClass.
Lesson 10: Stumped
There are some problems that you would love to solve but in reality, you just can’t. And that’s what Terence Tao teaches in lesson 10.
Well, maybe that was a little bit misleading. Because you can unlock the solution to most problems. You just need the right key.
In this lesson, Terence aims to give you that key.
In his usual storytelling style, you will discover the “keys analogy” that helps you beat video games or solve any life challenge you may be facing.
Then he shows you where to get those “keys”, the importance of time away from the problem and experience.
Finally, he concludes the lesson by telling you when to cut your losses on a problem and move on.
The last part of this lesson was a little bit depressing for me, but at least you won’t get any false promises!
Lesson 11: Finding Strength in Numbers
When you think of mathematicians it’s easy to imagine a guy alone with his giant chalkboard, writing furiously to solve an equation.
The modern reality couldn’t be any further from the truth. Mathematicians often work in groups to solve the most difficult problems.
And if they can collaborate to solve the mysteries of the universe, can’t you collaborate to solve simpler problems like planning the perfect party?
To illustrate his point, Tao talks about a problem he and a team solved in 2015 involving a sadistic, imaginary torturer.
I like that he included a little bit of humor in this section, making fun of his own drawing skills. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but enough to keep the lesson engaging.
Lesson 12: Onward
Just like he opened with inspiration, Terence closes the MasterClass with inspiration.
He talks about how we’re standing on the shoulder of giants and that mathematics is not all about solving problems. Sometimes it’s about getting insight.
And when you learn to accumulate insights through the way of thinking that Terence teaches, you will have an easier time solving problems as you move through life.
When you understand mathematical problem solving, you transform from a passive observer of your life story… to an active participant in the driver’s seat.
Who is This Course For?
One of the benefits of this course is that it’s appropriate for all levels of mathematical skill. Because there’s not a single equation in sight.
That being said, I think this course is best suited for people who:
- Are curious about life in general
- Would like new ways to solve problems in their life
- Understand how valuable math can be, but would prefer an easy way to understand it
- Perhaps are disgruntled by the way math is taught in schools
How Much Does The Terence Tao MasterClass Cost
MasterClass offers three price tiers for this course.
Per month you can expect to pay:
- $15 for one user
- $20 for two users
- $23 for a family
MasterClass charges annually.
This may seem like a lot at first, but consider this:
When you get the Terence Tao MasterClass, you also get access to 150+ courses by world-renowned experts.
Even if you were interested in only 2 courses a month, you’d be paying well under $10 per month.
Besides, if you aren’t happy with the Terence Tao MasterClass, you can get a full refund if you request it in the first 30 days.
Pros and Cons
By this point, I’ve told you everything you need to know about this MasterClass. But if you’re looking for a quick summary, here are the pros and cons.
Terence Tao MasterClass Pros
- Appropriate for all levels of mathematical skill
- No equations in sight
- Teaches how to solve problems in a way that is applicable to everyday life
- Comes with access to 150+ courses by world-renowned experts
- 30 day money back guarantee
Terence Tao MasterClass Cons
- Annual pricing may make the course inaccessible to some (though the 30 day money-back guarantee helps here)
- If you’re an advanced mathematician, the content might be too basic for you
Terence Tao MasterClass Alternatives
Here are a couple of options to consider if you don’t like the idea of this MasterClass
Wondrium offers a similar course called Art and Craft of Mathematical Problem Solving.
It’s by a math professor called Dr. Paul Zeitz, who he won the USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) in 1974 and was part of the first American team to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).
On the plus side, Dr. Paul Zeitz is an excellent teacher. He is very humorous and his presentation is very detailed. He is also very committed to helping students learn mathematics.
However, it’s a little equation-heavy compared to the MasterClass. I also noticed a couple of one-star reviews suggesting that some of the proofs are wrong!
Udemy offers a course called Math in Real Life.
Instead of general problem solving, it seems to cover more financial problems, such as compound interest, annuities, and loan payments can all be solved using mathematical techniques.
Maybe this course would be a better choice if you’re interested in using equations to solve problems.
But to be honest, it’s not really in the same category as Terence Tao’s class.
Terence Tao MasterClass Personal Experience: Does It Help With Solving Mathematical Problems?
I personally found the MasterClass to be extremely helpful in improving my problem-solving skills. Did it help my mathematical thinking? Yes, but not in the way I thought it would.
I expected it to be all about numbers and equations, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mathematical thinking doesn’t have to involve numbers at all!
Terence is a great teacher, and he makes these complicated mathematical concepts feel easy.
I can really see why MasterClass chose him to present, beyond just his fame.
Overall, I would highly recommend this MasterClass to anyone looking to improve their mathematics skills.
Conclusion: Should You Buy Terence Tao’s MasterClass?
The Terence Tao MasterClass is an excellent course for anyone looking to improve their general problem solving skills.
Taught by a world-renowned mathematician, this class covers everything from basic problem solving to more complex concepts in a way that is easy to understand.
Plus, you get access to over 150 other courses by experts in various fields.
If you’re not happy with the class within the first 30 days, you can get a full refund.
So if you’re a generally curious person and want problem-solving skills that will carry you through life, I don’t see any reason not to try it out. You can always request a refund if it’s not for you.
In summary, if you’re even slightly curious to check out this MasterClass… what’s the risk in trying it out?