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Jain Test Anxiety
By Donna Emert
Researchers have found that about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. “fear and loath” math. Anxiety feeds fear and loathing, which in turn feeds anxiety.
It’s a cycle University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene Professor of Counseling Sachin Jain hopes to break.
Jain recently earned the prestigious American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Outstanding Dissertation in Counseling Award for his investigation of math and test anxiety. The study, titled “Test Anxiety and Mathematics Anxiety as a Function of Mediated Learning Experience and Metacognitive Skills,” offers insights into student anxiety and suggests strategies for reducing it.
Jain studied test and math anxiety sufferer’s metacognitive knowledge – their awareness of their own learning processes – and how students can use that awareness to self-regulate their approaches to learning. The study reveals that as they come to understand and master these strategies, students gain the confidence that leads to competence.
“In this study, we tried to find what constitutes math anxiety,” Jain explained. “There were very few studies that explored the psychological variables. We found that teaching strategic approaches to learning becomes a way of developing self-regulated learners and self-regulated learning – both of which are seen as valued educational outcomes in and of themselves.”
Self-regulation is positively related to self-efficacy, which reduces math anxiety, Jain found.
In the study, mediators – a role that can be played by tutors, counselors, teachers and parents – focused on helping students understand each step necessary to solve mathematical questions, rather than focusing on the outcome. In other words, focus was taken off providing the right answer and put on understanding the mathematical process necessary to achieve it.
Jain also found that to overcome anxiety, students must master key self-regulation strategies for studying and testing. Strategies include rehearsal, which entails repeating, reciting and naming key concepts, and elaboration, which includes paraphrasing, summarizing and organization, and entails clustering and outlining those key concepts.
Mediators help to keep students focused on using effective strategies and offer positive reinforcement as students employ the strategies that work best for them.
With self-regulation – and the tools necessary for problem solving – anxiety is reduced and mastery of mathematical concepts is gained.
“Apart from the content knowledge, kids need to see that they can succeed,” said Jain. “The surprising or key finding of the study was the role of self-regulation in reducing math and testing anxiety. It always has been hypothesized, but had never before been empirically tested.”
In the dissertation, Jain documents a statistically significant relationship between students’ scores on test and mathematics anxiety, identifies the best predictors of test and math anxiety, and provides strategies for reducing anxieties. The results of the research have been accepted for publication in The Journal of Contemporary Education Psychology.
The study was conducted under the guidance of Professor Mary Alice Bruce at the University of Wyoming, where Jain earned a doctorate in counselor education in 2006. He joined University of Idaho Counseling and School Psychology, Special Education, and Educational Leadership (CASPEL) faculty at University of Idaho, Coeur d’Alene in 2007.
Jain holds a diploma of mediated learning experience, a master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology, and a postgraduate diploma in guidance and counseling, which he earned in India. He taught counseling courses at the University of Wyoming, and served as assistant professor in the counselor education program at the University of Texas-Pan America, before coming to Coeur d’Alene.
His study was conducted in India, and Jain aims to test the approach in Idaho. To that end, he has applied for an $8,000 grant from the University of Idaho Research Office. With it, he hopes ultimately to distribute questionnaires and develop models that will reliably reflect the particular needs of Idaho students.
The questionnaire would provide individual profiles of the strategies students already have mastered and identify weaknesses. That information would provide a starting point for mediators to help Idaho students reduce math and testing anxiety, and end the cycle of fear and loathing.