Why AI language models struggle with math problems

Large language models (LLMs), such as the one powering chatGPT (GPT-4) have demonstrated remarkable capabilities in generating human-like text, answering questions, and even creating poetry.

However, one might notice that LLMs often struggle with solving math problems.

LLMs generally struggle with various types of math problems, including but not limited to:

  • Probability and Statistics: Problems that involve calculating probabilities, analyzing statistical data, or working with probability distributions.
  • Linear Algebra: Problems that require manipulation of matrices, vectors, and linear transformations, such as solving systems of linear equations, calculating determinants, or finding eigenvalues and eigenvectors.
  • Calculus: Problems related to limits, differentiation, integration, and differential equations, including both single-variable and multivariable calculus.
  • Discrete Mathematics: Problems that involve combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, and logic.
  • Geometry: Problems related to Euclidean geometry, coordinate geometry, and non-Euclidean geometry, such as calculating areas, volumes, or dealing with geometric transformations.
  • Abstract Algebra: Problems that involve group theory, ring theory, and field theory, which are essential for understanding more advanced mathematical concepts.
  • Numerical Analysis: Problems that require finding numerical solutions to mathematical problems, such as root-finding, interpolation, or numerical integration and differentiation.
  • Optimization: Problems that involve finding the maximum or minimum values of functions, including linear programming and nonlinear optimization.
  • Topology: Problems related to the study of topological spaces and their properties, such as continuity, compactness, and connectedness.
  • Complex Analysis: Problems that involve functions of complex variables, including contour integration, analytic functions, and conformal mappings.

It’s important to note that these are general categories, and the difficulty LLMs face in solving a specific problem may vary depending on the complexity and context of the problem.

This article explores the reasons behind this limitation and discusses the inherent challenges faced by LLMs when dealing with mathematical computations.

Reasons why LLMs can’t do math

Sequential processing limits mathematical abilities

LLMs like GPT-4 are designed to process information sequentially, as they are primarily built to handle natural language.

This design is less efficient when it comes to mathematical computations, which typically involve multiple steps, intermediate results, and manipulation of symbols.

The sequential processing nature of these models can lead to limitations in solving complex math problems.

Lack of numeric representations

LLMs are trained to work with text and tokens, not numerical values.

This means they lack a built-in mechanism for directly handling and processing numbers.

As a result, they often struggle to perform even basic arithmetic operations, which require explicit numeric representations and manipulation of these representations.

Limited training data for math problems

LLMs are trained on large datasets of text, which may not include an extensive collection of math problems and their solutions.

This lack of exposure to diverse and complex mathematical problems during training makes it difficult for the models to develop a comprehensive understanding of mathematical concepts and techniques.

Ambiguity in natural language

Natural language is often ambiguous and can be imprecise, which poses challenges when translating math problems into a format suitable for AI language models.

Moreover, these models are designed to generate text that is contextually relevant and coherent, but not necessarily mathematically accurate.

This prioritization of language over mathematical correctness may lead to errors in problem-solving.

No built-In error checking mechanisms

LLMs generally lack built-in error checking mechanisms when it comes to mathematical computations.

Consequently, they are unable to identify and correct mistakes that may arise during problem-solving, resulting in incorrect answers or flawed reasoning.

Solutions to LLMs being bad at math

To address the limitations of AI language models (LLMs) in computing math problems, several approaches can be considered:

Specialized math models

Developing and training specialized AI models dedicated to mathematical problem-solving can help improve performance.

These models can be designed to handle numeric representations and mathematical operations more effectively than general-purpose language models.

Hybrid models

Combining language models with other AI algorithms, such as rule-based systems or symbolic computation engines (like Mathematica or SymPy), can improve math problem-solving capabilities.

These hybrid models can leverage the natural language understanding of LLMs and the mathematical prowess of specialized systems.

Enhanced training data

Including more diverse and complex mathematical problems in the training dataset can help LLMs develop a better understanding of mathematical concepts and techniques.

This may involve using datasets from textbooks, online math forums, or other educational resources.

Numeric representations

Modifying the architecture of LLMs to incorporate numeric representations can improve their ability to process and manipulate numbers.

This may involve using techniques like neural arithmetic units, which can perform arithmetic operations within neural networks.

Error-checking mechanisms

Integrating error-checking mechanisms into LLMs can help identify and correct mistakes made during mathematical problem-solving.

This may involve incorporating algorithms that can verify the correctness of intermediate steps or final solutions.

Curriculum learning

Structuring the training process in a way that gradually exposes the model to increasingly complex math problems can help the model develop a stronger foundation in mathematical problem-solving.

Fine-tuning on math-specific tasks

Fine-tuning the pre-trained language models on math-specific tasks can help improve their performance in solving mathematical problems.

This process focuses the model’s learning on mathematical concepts and techniques relevant to the target problem domain.

Attention mechanisms

Enhancing the attention mechanisms in LLMs can help them better capture long-range dependencies and multi-step reasoning required for mathematical problem-solving.

Incorporating external knowledge

Connecting LLMs with external knowledge bases or databases can help them access relevant mathematical information and formulas, improving their ability to solve math problems.

Research and development

Continued research into AI and machine learning techniques can lead to the development of new architectures and algorithms that are better suited for mathematical problem-solving.

By exploring and implementing these solutions, the performance of AI language models in computing math problems can be significantly improved.


While AI language models have shown impressive capabilities in natural language understanding and generation, their ability to compute math problems remains limited.

These limitations arise from their sequential processing nature, lack of numeric representations, limited exposure to mathematical problems during training, the ambiguity of natural language, and absence of error checking mechanisms.

However, as AI research continues to progress, it is likely that these limitations will be addressed, leading to more powerful and versatile models in the future.

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