Math Anxiety: Q&A with Experts at Texas A&M
By Sydnie Harrell '24, Office of Undergraduate Studies at Texas A&M University
The Office of Undergraduate Studies is publishing a 3-part series explaining anxiety related to academic experiences. These articles cover a few types of academic anxiety that college students may experience and discuss tips for managing each type. This article is 1 of 3. Follow us on social media @tamuundergrads to be updated when the next article in the series is published.
Math anxiety, also known as math phobia, is a fear surrounding math-related performance. According to a research article published in the Psychology Research and Behavior Management journal, 93% of adults reported experiencing math anxiety at some point in their lives.
To help shed some light on math anxiety, ASC Associate Director of STEM Resources Yvette Hester, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Statistics and Psychometrics, MLC Executive Director Paulo Lima-Filho, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and MLC Program Coordinator Anna Williams answered questions about the subject.
What is math anxiety?
Hester: Math anxiety is, in particular, this feeling of anxiety that you're not going to be able to perform efficiently in situations that involve using mathematics. It's an emotional problem that induces the fear of failure, and that hinders your ability to perform.
What are some symptoms of math anxiety?
Hester: The emotional symptoms are you're feeling helpless, you don't have confidence, you're afraid that you're going to get things wrong, and then that causes the physical symptoms, which can be heart racing, irregular breathing, breaking out in sweats and shaking.
What can cause math anxiety?
Hester: Some [students] have difficulty in understanding the mathematics itself, and that can really cause anxiety. If you are being tested in something you don't really understand, that's a very scary thing. The fear of failure and fear of being embarrassed in front of other people, that all plays a role.
There are studies that find that bad experiences with past math teachers you carry that forward with how you feel about math and how you feel you can perform in math. Our experiences in secondary school have a major impact on who we are.
What should a student do if they are experiencing math anxiety?
Lima-Filho: Keep in mind that everyone, including your professors, at some point had to start with zero knowledge of math and gradually built confidence and understanding. You are not alone in the process of learning the subject and conquering your fears.
Williams: Based on research, some recommended methods to prevent or alleviate math anxiety are practicing relaxation techniques during math-related situations, focus[ing] on past successes rather than failures, and [practicing] good study habits to not fall behind your math classes. Your professors, teaching assistants and the Math Learning Center are available to help you understand when something is unclear.
How can the ASC help students overcome math anxiety?
Hester: Visiting with an academic coach is always a good thing. Our academic coaches are very good with talking with students about just anxiety in general and time management [and] how to relieve their stress.
How can the MLC help students overcome math anxiety?
Williams: The MLC provides real-time and asynchronous support for all students struggling with math. Our resources are available to all students no matter regardless of background or level of understanding.
In addition to academic coaching, the ASC offers tutoring and review sessions for a variety of Texas A&M classes. The MLC also hosts review sessions, and the Virtual Math Learning Center (VMLC) website has online resources available 24/7.
“Our hope that students will reach out to us whenever they feel a first hint of math anxiety,” Lima-Filho said. “With the Math Learning Center, an Aggie should fear no math!”
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