Measuring the Impact of Anxiety and Personality on Engagement in Developmental Mathematics Coursework

Project No.
PI Name
Edgar Fuller
West Virginia University

Abstract 1

Measuring the Impact of Anxiety and Personality on Engagement in Developmental Mathematics Coursework

Presentation Type
Edgar Fuller, West Virginia University Jessica Deshler, West Virginia University


A number of studies have looked at the role that structural aspects such as assessments and course activities have on the performance of students in first year collegiate coursework. For most students, anecdotal evidence indicates that other factors connected to the students view of their connection to the course, their way of approaching their studies and their underlying emotional state may be stronger indicators of the potential for success in a course and persistence in long term academic work. In this project we are attempting to assess the impact of underlying emotional states and attitudes on student engagement and persistence.


Our project is administering a set of five surveys that measure student anxiety levels, personality traits, career aspirations, identity and views about their belonging in STEM courses. Our goal is to analyze the impact of these measured states on student engagement and persistence in developmental mathematics coursework.


Anxiety in mathematics courses has been a focus of study for many years (since the development of the Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS) in 1972 by Richardson & Suinn), the interaction of anxiety with core personality traits has not been studied extensively. We employ the Abbreviated-MARS (AMARS) survey, a 25-item shortened version of the MARS instrument (Alexander & Martray, 1989), along with the Big Five Inventory (BFI) personality profile survey (John, Naumann & Soto, 2008) to develop an understanding of a cohort of students whose background places them into a developmental mathematics course focusing on basic numerical and algebraic skills. The surveys were implemented along with a Career Aspirations survey in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016 at a large research university to approximately 500 students per semester. These results are then compared to student progress over the course of the term and long term student success rates.


In our work we are attempting to determine what aspect of anxiety and underlying personality traits correlate with student success and persistence in a developmental algebra course. Our goal is to identify markers that can be used to provide interventions in future courses that will mitigate factors that inhibit success. Our key deliverable will be tools that can be used to predict student behavior, allowing us to target certain subgroups for more focused interventions specifically related to increasing engagement or relieving anxiety.

Broader Impacts

Our project targets groups of students not traditionally associated with long term STEM career aspirations. We seek to recruit these students into career tracks that they would not normally persist in by improving their affect and engagement levels in a quantitative course. Student in these courses will be affected by the results from this work, and instructors, administrators and researchers at other universities will benefit from the insights that provide connections between student emotional states and performance.

Unexpected Challenges

Administering surveys and collecting robust data was a challenge. The pilot semester in Summer 2015 had poor response rates. We modified our process to incentivize students and increase our response rate in Fall 2015. Now our main challenge is analyzing and interpreting a large collection of quantitative and qualitative data.


Fuller, Edgar; Deshler, Jessica. THE IMPACT OF ANXIETY AND PERSONALITY ON STUDENT PERFORMANCE IN DEVELOPMENTAL MATHEMATICS COURSES, submitted to the International Congress on Mathematics Education, Hamburg, Germany 2016