Statistics Anxiety among Students


Most colleges, based on their curricula design, require students to enroll in either statistics or research methods courses as the pre-requisite part of their diploma or degree programs.  However, on many occasions, students show high magnitudes of statistics anxiety, characterized by the reluctance to enroll in such classes and in the form of procrastination. Studies have demonstrated that statistics anxiety affects about 80 percent of students (Ciftci et al., 2014). Unfortunately, the tendency has negatively affected their performance in statistics and research methods classes in various ways. For instance, statistics anxiety can trigger feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem for activities related to statistics in particular and research in general. Statistics anxiety refers to fear that a student encounters when undertaking a statistics course or test that often involve gathering, processing, and interpreting statistical data.

Some studies have investigated the correlation between worry, intolerance of uncertainty, and statistics anxiety that is the focal point of this paper. Others have also delved into giving insights into the attitudes of students towards statistics classes and the potential effects of forcing students into taking statistic courses (Williams, 2015). Studies have revealed that students’ procrastination in enrolling for statistics courses is attributable to their attempts to avoid the high levels of statistics anxiety. However, several factors, such as attitudes, academic results, self-concepts, as well as procrastination tendencies of students, have significantly influenced various levels and types of statistics anxiety. Particularly, the hypothesis is: statistics anxiety has adverse effects on students’ learning and performance in statistics courses.

Literature Review

Stress refers to the expectation of a negative force without precise and predictable impact and is always accompanied by the feeling of fear. Statistics anxiety has been defined as a sense of nervousness when taking a statistical data related subject or unit that involves the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the statistical set of data. According to Williams (2013), statistics anxiety is multi-dimensional. It exists in various forms that include statistics’ worth, test and class, interpretation, and computation self-concept anxieties as well as fear of asking for help.

The value of statistics is the perception of students regarding how the discipline will help them in their daily professional and personal lives. Interpretation anxiety is the nervousness that comes with the possible challenge of determining the most appropriate method of data analysis and the subsequent assigning of meaning to every statistical outcome (Williams, 2013). Test and class anxiety is just the feeling of uncertainty and fears that students are likely to face while attending statistics lessons and when attempting tests. Nonetheless, computation self-concept is a form of anxiety that affects students while trying to solve analytical problems through computations. Notably, students with high scores on the factors as mentioned earlier see no need in taking statistics; perceive interpretation of results as challenging and provoking; feel anxious when thinking of enrolling in the statistics course, attending classes; doubt their potential to solving statistical problems, and are likely to fear their instructors respectively.

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Bolin et al. (2012) examined the connection between training in research techniques and attitudes of social work students toward research. During the orientation, the researchers considered the beliefs of students under study regarding the significance, usefulness, and validity of the research. However, the researchers also examined students’ attitudes through their various levels of study anxiety and their interests. According to the outcomes of the survey, as revealed in the Ordinary Least of Squares regression, the point of studying statistics increased amongst students who had believed in the importance of research. Moreover, students who believed in the usefulness of the research experienced a decline in anxiety and developed more interest in research.

Various studies have concluded that students have negative attitudes and beliefs towards research that mostly trigger anxiety among students.  It is critical to recognize the problems that social work instructors face in their daily attempts to help their students appreciate the research. For instance, most students have negative attitudes and beliefs regarding the relevance and importance of research, for example, statistics in the social work profession. While social work students often bring a mix of different attitudes and beliefs into various social work classrooms, petite is known about the aggregate effects of the interaction of such attitudes and beliefs on research as a discipline.

However, research orientation is a successful tool in determining the relevance and validity of research in social work (Elliott et al., 2013). For instance, some studies concluded that social action and findings are valid and unbiased means of finding various aspects of truth. Students may have beliefs, some of which may devalue both relevance and usefulness of research and may dismiss the philosophical foundation of solid evidence.  Additionally, students may hold views that studies are biased, and those research findings have little relevance in the real world of social work. Some social work students may view research as mechanistic, cold, and, therefore, an unattractive mission with tiny aspects to help them in their social work profession.

Fear of the unknown, tension, and physiological signs of stress often accompany statistics anxiety, especially when taking a statistics class is the only option. Other studies have discovered that students who suffer from statistics anxiety may experience symptoms such as mild depression, stress, headache, and sweating, as well as panic (Macher et al., 2013). Moreover, some students may as well be emotional and indicate signs of physical and physiological anxiety. Other studies have confirmed that statistics anxiety often affects the performance of students, especially in statistics and research subjects.

Studies have shown that orientation has a positive impact on reducing statistics anxiety. A positive adjustment to statistics enables students to improve their self-efficacy by believing that statistics is relevant to their respective programs. An improvement in the self-efficacy of students exudes a significant level of confidence in their ability to produce the required results and meeting the requirements of the course. Similarly, empowering students is a necessary tool for attaining personal goals and closing the inequality gaps. In such a practice, teachers encourage students to express their fears and propose possible solutions in their views. Additionally, empowering students to require a holistic approach that would enable the students to perceive and experience the value of statistics and research beyond classwork.

According to Elliott et al., (2013), lack of emphasis on research techniques and statistics and faculty reluctance towards teaching social work students is to blame for the statistics anxiety. The reluctance has created a surrounding that imparts anxiety among social work students who take fewer mathematics-related courses in high school as compared to their undergraduate counterparts. Research has shown that statistics anxiety is higher amongst social work students than all other students who are enrolling in introductory statistics courses. The study further illustrates that time assigned to statistics and research methods is too little to the extent that it has created the perception among the social work students that statistics is not that critical to their professional success and, hence the overall reluctance. However, other studies have proven that the introduction of an online statistics laboratory has the potential of changing the environment altogether to ease reluctance amongst both teachers and students of social work.


Statistics anxiety is a reality, and the literature reviews confirm its negative impact on the performance of students, especially in the social work faculty. Statistics anxiety has physical and physiological effects on students, such as panic, stress, and headaches, among others that are detrimental (Bolin et al., 2012). Statistics anxiety has also been attributed to the environment created by the reluctance of students, particularly of social works, to enroll in statistics classes. However, solutions have been found through empirical studies such as online statistics labs and research orientation for improving students’ self-efficacy and empowering them to interrogate their challenges with the course and propose workable solutions. Moreover, limited time for statistics and research methods in the social work classes has created a perception that, unlike other social work units, statistical data is not that important to the profession.



Bolin, B. L., Lee, K. H., GlenMaye, L. F., & Yoon, D. P. (2012). Impact of research orientation on attitudes toward research of social work students. Journal of Social Work Education, 48(2), 223-243.

Ciftci, S. K., Karadag, E., & Akdal, P. (2014). Instruction of statistics via computer-based tools: Effects on statistics’ anxiety, attitude, and achievement. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 50(1), 119-133.

Elliott, W., Choi, E., & Friedline, T. (2013). Online statistics labs in MSW research methods courses: Reducing reluctance toward statistics. Journal of Social Work Education, 49(1), 81-95.

Macher, D., Paechter, M., Papousek, I., Ruggeri, K., Freudenthaler, H. H., & Arendasy, M. (2013). Statistics anxiety, state anxiety during an examination, and academic achievement. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(4), 535-549.

Williams, A. S. (2013). Worry, intolerance of uncertainty, and statistics anxiety. Statistics Education Research Journal, 12(1), 48-59.

Williams, A. S. (2015). Statistics anxiety and worry: the roles of worry beliefs, negative problem orientation, and cognitive avoidance. Statistics Education Research Journal, 14(2), 53-76.