Math anxiety is an intense emotional feeling of anxiousness in the ability to understand and do mathematics. Although girls tend to do just as well as boys in math class (despite some myths that suggest otherwise), they do report experiencing more anxiety when it comes to tests.
Researchers from the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education conducted two studies in which they collected data from approximately 700 students in grades 5 through 11. In the first study, students were asked to complete a questionnaire about their feelings before and during a math exam. In the second study, the students additionally were assessed using real-time measures during class.
Girls did report more math anxiety than boys on their generalized assessments. However, during the real-life setting of the class and the exam, the girls did not display any more anxiety than boys. Education researchers Thomas Götz and Madeleine Bieg suggest that girls may be more anxious because they have less confidence in their abilities or they believe the bias that girls are not as good as boys in math studies.
Though math abilities are pretty much equal among boys and girls, girls are less likely to pursue careers in math-intensive domains because of their anxiety.
The Texas State University Counseling Center offers this advice for overcoming math anxiety:
• Review and learn basic arithmetic principles and methods. Many students, perhaps because of early negative experiences, never really developed a solid foundation in basic arithmetic, particularly multiplication and fractions. Because math is an accumulative discipline, that is complex concepts are built cumulatively on more simple concepts, a student who has not developed a solid arithmetic foundation will have trouble learning higher order math. A remedial course or short course in arithmetic is often a significant first step in reducing the anxiety response to math.
• Be aware of thoughts, feelings, and actions as they are related to math. Math anxiety affects different students in different ways. It’s important to be familiar with the thoughts you have about yourself and the situation when you encounter math. If you are aware of unrealistic or irrational thoughts you can work to replace those thoughts with more positive and realistic ones.
• Seek help! Math anxiety is learned and reinforced over a long period of time and therefore is not quickly eliminated. A student can reduce the anxiety response more effectively with the help of a number of different services.
• Learn the vocabulary of mathematics. One of the problems students have with math is understanding the terms and vocabulary. Math often uses words in a completely different way than they ate used in other subject. The term factor is an example. Students often confuse lack of understanding of terms and vocabulary with math ability.
• Learn anxiety reduction and anxiety management techniques. Anxiety can greatly interfere with concentration, clear thinking, attention and memory. Students can learn relaxation anxiety management techniques that are very effective in controlling the emotional and physical characteristics of anxiety that are interfering with mental processing capabilities.
• Work on having a positive attitude about math. Having a positive attitude will build self-confidence and thus reduce anxiety.
• Learn positive self-talk. Giving yourself positive self-talk helps to counter and overcome your belief in the math myths or to stop playing mind games on yourself. Positive self-talk is effective in replacing negative thoughts, which create anxiety with positive thoughts that reduce anxiety.
• Although you may be inclined to sit near the back of the room (where you will not be called upon), sit near the front if you can during math so that there are fewer distractions and you feel more like a part of the discussion.
• Never ever be afraid to ask questions. If not during the class, stop by your teachers desk (or office) after class to ask for help.
• Do not wait until the last minute to do math homework or study for a test. Procrastination will only add to the anxiety levels you are already feeling.
Thomas Götz, Madeleine Bieg, Oliver Ludtke (Humboldt University Berlin), Reinhard Pekrun (University of Munich), and Nathan C. Hall (McGill University ). “Do Girls Really Experience More Math Anxiety?” Association for Psychological Science. August 26, 2013 (Press Release)
Texas State University: Math Anxiety