Maths anxiety and improved performance – a snapshot!

Various intervention strategies have been employed for the reduction of anxiety and the consequent effect on academic performance. In a study conducted by Naven-Benjamin, relaxation and desensitization training were found to be most helpful in reducing anxiety and in increasing academic performance for those high test-anxious students who possessed good study habits (Naveh-Benjamin 1991). Subsequent research suggested that negative thought about ones ability to perform in mathematics directly affects the drive to excel (Adams and Holcomb 1986). One implication of their findings and analysis regarding the relationship between maths anxiety and maths performance is that psychologists and counsellors need to focus on attitude change, modification or negative self-statements and anxiety reduction techniques in helping people improve their performance.

The literature to date with regard to the connection between maths anxiety and maths performance can be used to substantiate and design strategies to assist learners.mathematics

Research in that area has shown the effect of test anxiety on maths performance to be marginal (Szetela 1973). It was demonstrated that covert positive reinforcement is effective in reducing math test anxiety, but does not result in significant improvement in performance (Finger and Galassi 1977). Later Dew et al investigated the relation of mathematics anxiety to test anxiety, maths performance, physiological arousal, and maths avoidance behaviour (Dew et al. 1984). It was concluded that because of the modest relation between anxiety and math performance, interventions designed to do more than reduce anxiety would be needed in order to produce maximal increments in students’ math performance. He also concluded that the results of these previous studies regarding the direction of relationship between math anxiety and math performance were inconclusive. Another method investigated was the use of hypnotherapy in the alleviation of test anxiety (Stanton 1993). This approach was of particular value in that in that it seemed to help students draw on their inner resources in a manner that might not have been previously available to them. The analysis of the results indicated that the anxiety level was reduced and the number of students who passed was significant.


Adams, N. and Holcomb, W.R. (1986) ‘Analysis of the Relationship Between Anxiety About Mathematics and Performance’, Psychological Reports, 59, 943-948.
Dew, K.M.H., Galassi, J.P. and Galassi, M.D. (1984) ‘Math Anxiety: Relation with Situational Test Anxiety, Performance, Physiological Arousal, and Math Avoidance Behaviour’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, 31, 580-583.
Finger, R. and Galassi, J.P. (1977) ‘Effects of Modifying Cognitive versus Emotionality Responses in the Treatment of Test Anxiety’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42(2), 280-287.
Naveh-Benjamin, M. (1991) ‘A Comparison of Training Programs Intended for Different Types of Test-Anxious Students: Further Support for an Information-Processing Model’, Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(1), 134-139.
Stanton, H.E. (1993) ‘Using Hypnotherapy to Overcome Examination Anxiety’, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 35, 198-204.
Szetela, W. (1973) ‘The Effects of Test Anxiety and Success/Failure on Mathematics Performance in Grade Eight’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 4, 152-160.



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