Math Anxiety Reduces Math Achievement

Math anxiety, which is defined as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” (Ashcraft, 2002), can almost be considered a disease based on how pervasive it is in our schools. Math is seen as the most frustrating subject and has the highest failure rate (Huang, Huang, & Wu, 2013). It is the subject that students tend to fear most, and this anxiety and negative attitudes toward math is often spread through media and other cultural avenues.

But how does this math anxiety affect student performance? Most importantly, it leads to avoidance: students stop taking math classes, which can be detrimental to their success in fields that may require math. Other consequences include negative self-perceptions and self-esteem, decreased motivation, and lower competence and achievement. Many of these are a result of avoidance -- students are exposed to less math and even learn less of what they are exposed to (Ashcraft, 2002).

Decreasing anxiety has been found to increase math performance -- so is there a way to decrease anxiety using an educational video game? Some researchers say there is. One study found that digital game-based learning (DGBL) that provides feedback to students is beneficial not only to their learning, but also in reducing math anxiety. These games make learning less fearful and make for a joyful learning experience, which helps to increase motivation as well as learning (Huang, Huang, & Wu, 2013).

Problemscape allows students to immerse themselves in a virtual world and take control of their own learning through the storyline that involves them teaching math concepts to characters in the game. By providing a fun, positive experience where students feel responsible for understanding math concepts, students can learn to enjoy math and tackle problems with less anxiety and more motivation.


Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 181-185. Retrieved from

Huang, Y., Huang, S., & Wu, T. (2013). Embedding diagnostic mechanisms in a digital game for learning mathematics. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(2), 187-207. doi:10.1007/s11423-013-9315-4

RationaleShreya Sodhi