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Terence Tao MasterClass Review on Mathematical Thinking [2022]

I’m a writer, far from a mathematical thinker. When I saw this was a new class offered on MasterClass, it would be a lie to say I was excited. However, math has many applications in day-to-day life and if your middle and high school math education left a little something to be desired, it is never bad to brush up on those skills.

In his first lesson, ‘Meet Your Instructor’, Tao states, “When I first learned mathematics, I didn’t appreciate just how connected it was with the rest of the world.” I think that’s a nice way to look at mathematics. It isn’t being shoved into a classroom and forced to do equations for nonsensical situations, it’s solving real-world problems with logic.

In this review, we take a look at what is covered in the Terence Tao MasterClass so you can determine if it is worth your time and money.

Who Is Terence Tao

Terence Tao is a Fields Medalist and mathematician who has focused his career on number theory and quantum mechanics. Son of a math teacher, Tao found a love for mathematical thinking early on in his life which he spent in Australia. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is currently a teacher at UCLA. Tao is also the author of hundreds of research papers. In short, this man is impressive.

What Terence Tao’s MasterClass Covers

Terence Tao’s MasterClass focuses on mathematical thinking and is the first and currently the only MasterClass with a heavy math focus.

Class Length

Terence Tao’s MasterClass is 12 lessons long making it a mid-size course from this company. It is a 1-hour and 34-minute investment of your time. While I wouldn’t call this casual Friday evening entertainment, it can be consumed within an afternoon.

Lesson List

Let’s take a bird’s-eye view of the lessons offered in this class:

  • Meet Your Instructor
  • Terence Tao’s Journey
  • Demystifying Math
  • Math in Your Everyday Life
  • Choosing the Problem to Solve
  • Solving Problems With Story
  • Transforming Problems
  • Games, Cheats, and Puzzles
  • Math Fails
  • Stumped
  • Finding Strength in Numbers
  • Onward

Class Price

Terence Tao’s MasterClass is offered with the yearly membership to MasterClass. The membership is billed annually and three plans are now offered: Individual, Duo, and Family. Each membership offers access to 150+ classes, the Sessions by MasterClass series, and the ability to watch courses on your computer, TV, phone, or tablet. You’ll also have access to all bonus class guides and content.

The only major differences are the number of devices you can use at the same time: one for the Individual plan, 2 for the Duo plan, and 6 for the Family plan.

The prices for memberships are currently as follows:

  • Individual – $15/mo or $180
  • Duo – $20/mo or $240
  • Family – $23/mo or $276

Course Materials

This class comes with a 48-page guidebook. It approaches math misconceptions like ‘some people are inherently bad at math’ and teaches you how to handle getting through a problem when you’re stuck. You’ll also be given three assignments to try out, where you can continue learning about math and recommended reading to further your knowledge.

What We Liked

This class offered a lot to like from being an approachable course on a subject many of us are scared of.

Not High-Level Math

The biggest thing you should know, and a reason to like this class, is it isn’t typical calculus or linear algebra. You’ll be learning how to think mathematically rather than learning to do equations. This makes this class more accessible to those who aren’t math-inclined while also making the information applicable to the world outside the classroom.

Real-World Examples

Real-world examples make math seem worth it in a way that abstract problems don’t. Learning about real-world examples like luggage at an airport and sampling wine volume in barrels both exhibit how math can be used practically—something I find was missing from my math classes in high school.

I also particularly like Tao’s takeaway that, “The failure is often more instructive than success.”

We tend to have a phobia of failure. Failing doesn’t feel good. I don’t think it ever will. But our aversion to failure may explain why some of us are particularly afraid of math equations. Tao explaining that failure is part of it and can often teach us more than success is a good point we can carry into all areas of our life, not just mathematics.

Easily Understood

The problems discussed in this MasterClass are not high-level by any means, as previously mentions, but the explanations are also easily understood. I’m sure we’ve all experienced extremely intelligent people who speak and sound like they are speaking another language. Tao is not one of those people. He breaks down problems using language that is accessible to most.

What We Didn’t Like

While much about this class was positive, I did see some potential pitfalls.

Doesn’t Provide Specific Skills

If you’re someone who wants specific, hard math skills then you won’t find them in this course. Just as this is a positive for some people, this could be a drawback for others. This course focuses on thinking mathematically and the theory of mathematics rather than learning how to solve algebraic equations.

How to Get the Most Out of This Class

If you’re pressed for time, you’ll want to know which lessons to watch and which to skip. Check out the top lesson below followed by the one that is skippable. You’ll also want to be sure you read through the workbook for this one to reaffirm the information you learned in the video course.

Best Lesson: Games, Cheats, and Puzzles

Games, Cheats, and Puzzles was a highlight of this course, as Tao walks you through the specifics of solving various puzzles and games for the best results and logic.

Solving Problems With Story is a close second as this gives you a completely different view of approaching mathematical problems that may be easier for some people to grasp (especially if you aren’t usually math inclined).

Worst Lesson: Meet Your Instructor

I didn’t find the Meet Your Instructor lesson to be bad by any means. I enjoyed learning about Tao’s journey and if you are interested in him then I would certainly still watch this lesson. However, if you are pressed for time and you just want to get the absolute most by watching the highlight reel then you can skip this lesson without missing anything particularly important.

Who Is This MasterClass Best For?

This class is best for those who struggle in math but want to learn how to use it in real life. You’ll also enjoy this course if you found yourself frustrated in your high school or college math courses due to the lack of applicable knowledge.

Who Is This MasterClass Not For?

If you’re a math major, chances are this course isn’t going to do it for you. However, I’d like to recommend it to anyone who plans to teach math as I think it may help you better approach your math-averse students.

Similar MasterClasses You Might Like

The ‘Science & Tech’ category on MasterClass is the most neglected. They have a plethora of cooking classes to pick from and plenty in ‘Art & Entertainment’ but when it comes to STEM-related topics, MasterClass does have a weakness.

With that being said, the classes they do offer within this category are quite interesting and definitely worth the time investment.

If you like Terence Tao’s MasterClass, you’ll likely enjoy the following:

  • Bill Nye – Science and Problem-Solving
  • Matthew Walker – The Science of Better Sleep
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson – Scientific Thinking and Communication
  • Chris Hadfield – Space Exploration
  • Dr. Jane Goodall – Conservation

Final Takeaway – 4.5/5

This class gets an A from me. I definitely recommend you take this MasterClass even if you aren’t a math major (especially if you aren’t a math major, actually). While you won’t learn specific hard math skills, you’ll learn theory and applicable ways to utilize mathematical thinking in daily life.

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