Students' Perceptions on Factors of Statistics Anxiety and Instructional Strategies

By Pan, Wei; Tang, Mei | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Students' Perceptions on Factors of Statistics Anxiety and Instructional Strategies


Pan, Wei, Tang, Mei, Journal of Instructional Psychology


We explored students" experiences in a statistics class to investigate what factors contributed to students' anxiety and how instructional strategies helped students learn statistics effectively. The participants were graduate students in the social sciences at a large Midwest university. The findings from the study demonstrate that factors contributing to statistics anxiety include math phobia, lack of connection to daily life, pace of instruction, and instructor's attitude. The results also show that using multidimensional instructional methods and instructor's being attentive to students' anxiety are helpful strategies to reduce students' anxiety.

Key words: statistics anxiety, learning statistics, teaching statistics

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Statistics anxiety is defined as anxiety that occurs as a result of encountering statistics in any form and at any level (Onwuegbuzie, DaRos, & Ryan 1997). In classrooms, statistics anxiety is noticeably common among students whose academic background includes little previous statistical or mathematical training. Onwuegbuzie, Slate, et al. (2000) stated that 75% to 80% of graduate students in the social sciences appeared to experience uncomfortable levels of statistics anxiety which negatively affected learning (Onwuegbuzie & Seaman 1995).

Consequently, statistical analysis became the lowest academic skill for graduate students in the social sciences (Huntley, Schneider, & Aronson 2000). The dilemma is that almost all graduate students in the social sciences need to take statistics as part of their academic training. How training programs should help graduate students address statistics anxiety and help them learn statistics more effectively is important.

Statistics anxiety is not only due to the lack of training or to insufficient skills, but is also due to misperception about statistics and negative experiences in previous statistics classes. For instance, students often think they do not have enough mathematics training to do well in statistics classes. The fear of failing the course causes a delay in enrolling in statistics courses for as long as possible, and the delay often leads to failure to complete degree programs (Onwuegbuzie 1997). The lack of self-efficacy and the high anxiety in statistics keep many students away from engaging in research work or furthering an academic career (Blalock 1987; Caine et al. 1978; Schacht & Stewart 1990; Zeidner 1991).

The prevalence of statistics anxiety among graduate students in the social sciences has called for researchers' and educators' growing attention in the last decade. In the literature, statistics anxiety has been extensively studied in two major areas--measurement of and factors contributing to statistics anxiety. In the early stage, statistics anxiety instruments were derived from measurement of math anxiety, including the Statistical Anxiety Scale (Pretorius & Norman 1992) and the Statistics Anxiety Inventory (Richard & Woolfolk 1980). The Statistics Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS), developed by Cruise and Wilkins (1980) and Cruise, Cash, and Bolton (1985), is recently studied by Baloglu (2002) for its psychometric properties. More recently, Watson et al. (2003) incorporated the STARS along with a survey of attitude toward statistics into a multimedia program--EncStat (Encouraged About Statistics)--that aimed at identifying students with statistics anxiety or negative attitudes toward statistics.

The factors contributing to students' anxiety are broad. Forte (1995) found several factors that were applicable to social work students who experienced statistics anxiety. These factors were minimal previous math preparation, late-in-career introduction to quantitative analysis, general anti-quantitative bias, lack of appropriation for the power of analytical models, and lack of mental imagery useful in thinking about quantitative concepts. Another investigation found that evaluation concern, fear of failure, and perfectionism were responsible for statistics anxiety (Walsh & Ugumba-Agwunobi 2002). …

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