Development of a Measure on Statistics Anxiety in Graduate-Level Psychology Students

Article excerpt

Mathematics anxiety has always maintained a central focus in the education literature. However, there has been a recent focus on "statistics anxiety" as experienced by undergraduates. This paper presents the development of an instrument that assesses "statistical anxiety" in psychology graduate students. This measure was administered to 10 students enrolled in a graduate statistics course in an effort to refine the measure via student feedback. The refined instrument could be used as a screening tool for psychology students prior to taking graduate--level statistics course work; Such evaluation can assist instructors in identifying remedial need or counseling intervention.

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Over the past several decades, there has been a high level of research interest in how college students approach the study of mathematics-related topics or coursework (Bessant, 1995; Schoenfield, 1987). Since 1970, much of this body of research has been published in the Journal of Research in Mathematics Education. In addition, several measures have been developed for the evaluation of students' concerns toward mathematics, such as the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (see Richardson & Suinn, 1972). The high level of stress experienced by students taking mathematics course work is evident by the large percentage (about one- third) of students who consult university-counseling centers for "math-anxiety" concerns. (Richardson & Suinn, 1972).

For students in the social sciences, concerns about mathematics usually remain dormant until the first undergraduate "statistics" course that is a degree requirement. Most of these students manage to pass this challenge after some trepidation, tutorial assistance and perseverance. However, for a sizeable minority of students, the experience of in their introductory or basic statistics course is, unfortunately rather onerous and anxiety-laden. A sizeable number of undergraduate "social science" majors pursue graduate-level education in the field of psychology, with required course work in research design and graduate-level statistics. Therefore many of these psychology students experience high levels of stress in anticipation of successfully completing the statistics component of their graduate curriculum. Although several authors have developed instruments to assess "statistics anxiety" such as the Statistics Anxiety Scale (Pretorius & Norman, 1992) and the Mathematics Information Processing Scale (MIPS; Bessant 1997), there still is a dearth of studies in the literature that addresses this issue.

The purpose of the present study was to design and refine a measure that would assist instructors in the identification of graduate-level psychology students who harbor negative feelings and anxiety toward statistics prior to the commencement of coursework. Such an evaluation could prove to be useful and constructive to both students and instructors in the advisement of a) prerequisite coursework, b) remedial self-study, c) tutorial assistance, and/or d) counseling.

Method

We undertook the initial development of the questionnaire based on our academic experience as mathematics professor (R.H.), statistics professor (S.C.B), and instructor in psychology (C.P.). This version of the questionnaire was comprised of three main sections:

i) Prerequisite courses that were completed during high school, during undergraduate preparation, and graduate-level, in mathematics and statistics;

ii) Anxiety-level regarding statistics;

iii) Potential didactic strategies for the successful completion of the graduate statistics course.

The second phase involved the administration of the initial questionnaire to 10 psychology students who were already enrolled in a graduate statistics course at the University of West Florida during the summer of 2001. Our objective here was to obtain feedback from these students on the relevance of the various queries. …