Maths anxiety is common among our society


Research has shown that 93% of the adults in the US say that they have some level of maths anxiety. According to the Programme for International Students, 31% of teenagers across 34 countries say they have anxiety when solving maths problems. 33% say they are tensed to do maths homework while nearly 60% say they worry maths classes will be hard to catch up.

Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College in New York, says the idea that you are either inherently good or bad at maths persists in western countries. Moreover, it seems to be socially acceptable to be bad at maths in society.

However, many of us who fear maths or thought that we are bad at it may be indirectly trying to avoid maths problems. Although we may be perfectly capable of solving it with just a little effort.

What is maths anxiety and where does it come from?

The term ‘Mathephobia’ was invented by Mary de Lellis Gough in 1953 after observing her struggling students while doing maths problems. This term is described as a disease that proves fatal before its existence is detected.

Beilock and her workmates have proven that maths anxiety can start as soon as we enter formal schooling. She said that “Math is one of the first places in school in Western culture where we learn about whether we got something right or wrong, and are exposed to being evaluated in timed tests,”

Furthermore, girls tend to be more prone to it than boys. For instance, primary school teachers who often experience a high level of maths anxiety are mostly female. Therefore, girls are more likely to pick up maths anxiety from female teachers as children tend to identify with adults of the same gender.

Darcy Hallett, a psychologist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada also had researched on maths anxiety. He says that early experiences such as having angry, unapproachable or oppressive teachers are associated with maths anxiety.

How to reduce it?

Beilock has studied that giving students with maths anxiety a simple writing worksheet before maths tests helped improve their performance.  Students were asked to express their feelings of anxiety about the maths test in the written worksheet.

This may help them to better understand and manage their emotions. It also helps to free up cognitive resources to enhance working performance and memory in the math tests. There are also some higher education institutions who offer classes to overcome maths anxiety.


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Content Source: The myth of being ‘bad’ at maths

Prepared by: Pui Leng



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