Math Anxiety – Fiction?

15 09 2013

Test anxiety. Symptoms include sweaty palms, twitching, shortening of breath and nervous energy. Many of us, men and women alike, have experienced it. But why is that women are more commonly portrayed to suffer from this? Surveys of high school students have shown that women are more likely to suffer from test anxiety than males, especially in math classes. In my experience, my female classmates were more expressive about their test anxiety while males where cool, calm, and collected. But does the outer appearance really portray individuals’ true experience?

A new study published in the journal of Psychological Science found that girls report test anxiety at a higher level than they experience. This study went beyond surveying the students, but also spent time in the math class watching the students as they took the exam. Surveys were administered before and after the exam. The results showed that women measured to have higher anxiety before exams were taken but during the class they had no more math anxiety than the men. This is encouraging even though it shows how much we as women have to break stereotypes.

The students tested were from grades 5 -11. Remembering back to this range, I remember trying as hard as I could to fit in. I wanted the girls to like me, and I wanted the boys attention. This was a fine balance to accomplish. The media portrays desirable women to let the man be the best. For many, this meant that being good at “tougher” subjects such as math or science was undesirable. The most popular method to get guys attention was to express worry over these subjects in hopes of them offering their support or sympathy. While this method worked, many of the friends I knew had a natural ability for math but refused to own up to it. Only once they entered college and recognized that being perceived as smart was a non-issue.

This study to me brings to light the importance of young ladies to understand that it is okay to be smart. Test anxiety is a real occurrence but women should not feel extra pressure because of their math ability. Most importantly, women need to give themselves permission to be good at math and science. Society should not persuade these young women to believe that are bad at math just because stereotypes state this. Lets change the way our youth believe they must be and allow them to pursue their passions.

– Marea