If equations and long division leave you in a spin, take a deep breath.

Essex University research has found changing the ways in which maths problems are set can lead to more students persevering with the subject.

Students were faced with conventional problems and problems using ‘mathematical mindsets’. 

Mathematical mindsets are a series of principles designed to make maths problems more user-friendly, with the aim of promoting long-term self-belief.

The scheme employs a range of techniques, which include encouraging students to see numbers in different ways and to ‘pitch’ their solution to other members of the class.

None of the participants knew if they were answering normal problems or ones adopting the 'mathematical mindsets'.

A study by Dr Ian Daly, Jake Bourgaize and Dr Alexei Vernitski used brain-scanning technology to confirm students displayed increased motivation using the alternative approach.

Dr Vernitski said: “The ability to solve mathematical problems is developed over time, but sadly many students become discouraged too soon.

"To improve diversity, both in maths and society, we must find an approach to teaching maths which better motivates students.

"Our research confirms that an approach based on ‘mathematical mindsets’ can deliver increased motivation.

"Over time, we hope this increased motivation will result in individuals adopting a ‘growth mindset’ – the belief that they can succeed.”

As part of the study the students recorded their own motivation when faced with each task and an electroencephalogram was used to measure electrical activity in their brains.

Dr Daly said: “The EEG showed greater activity in areas of the brain associated with motivation when the subject was faced with a ‘mindsets’ problem.

"This is the first study to use an EEG to confirm what participants have told us and it provides important evidence for the effectiveness of a ‘mindsets’ approach in increasing learner motivation.”