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Effects of an Intensive Mathematics Course on Freshmen Engineering Students' Mathematics Anxiety Perceptions

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 2

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Gustavo Moran Clemson University

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Gustavo Moran is a graduate student in the Science and Engineering Education Department at Clemson University. He has a B.A. degree from the Instituto Tecnologico de Durango in Engineering Computing Systems and M.S. degree from CIMAV in Technology Commercialization

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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Math anxiety is described as the tense feelings that arise when faced with solving problems that involve numbers that interfere with a person’s ability to manipulate numbers and solve problems. Math anxiety is not just a dislike of mathematics or poor math knowledge, but rather, a set of feelings that affects performance in math activities. Feelings of high math anxiety have shown to be a strong predictor of poor math performance, and they are negatively correlated to the decision of entering math-related majors such as engineering. This research aims to deepen our understanding of how engineering students experience math anxiety, and how these feelings change after an intensive four week math intervention. Participants for this study were engineering majors from an engineering university in Mexico. At this university, all freshmen are required to take a four week summer math course designed to standardize their math knowledge. To be accepted in this university, students need to pass the math course with a grade of 70% or better. The math course is a review of basic math knowledge that students should have acquired in high school (arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry and geometry); the class pace is faster than a normal class because it is considered to be a review. All students enrolled in this math course (N=809) were conditionally accepted for Fall 2015. Students completed a math anxiety survey with 20 Likert-type items on the first and last days of the four week course. A validated math anxiety survey was translated from English to Spanish by an expert in the field who is fluent in both languages. A few minor changes were made based on the difference in the US and Mexican university contexts. Reliability was tested for this population with an exploratory factor analysis, and the two constructs within the survey were found to be reliable. T-tests were conducted to determine if students’ math anxiety levels at the end of the course differed from the beginning of the course, and also to analyze differences in math anxiety between students of different gender, high schools, and states of origin. Our analysis shows that students’ math anxiety levels increased significantly after the four week course, regardless of gender, type of high school, and students’ origin. This anxiety increase was significant for both male and female students, but effects on female students were more significant. Female students showed higher math anxiety than males before the course, and their anxiety levels increased significantly after the course. . This increase in math anxiety could be related to the fast pace of the course, or the pressure to pass the course to be accepted in the university. Understanding these effects will help math educators to design these courses with the objective of enhancing students’ math knowledge without creating a stressful environment that may develop math anxiety feelings during the process.

Moran, G., & Benson, L. (2016, June), Effects of an Intensive Mathematics Course on Freshmen Engineering Students' Mathematics Anxiety Perceptions Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26915

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