How Instruction, Math Anxiety, and Math Achievement Affect Learning a Novel Math Task: Evidence for Better Instruction

Amy Jane Mcauley


The primary goal of this paper is to test how math anxiety, achievement, and instruction affect learning a novel math task. Currently, most research measures achievement and math anxiety on previously learned tasks. A two-part study was proposed to measure the effects of math anxiety on learning modular arithmetic (MA), a novel math task that involves subtraction and division. Participants of varying degrees of anxiety and achievement were randomly assigned to either a specific or vague instruction condition. Participants were either taught how to solve the task or given minimal information about how to solve the task. Before moving on, each participant had to reach criterion (80%) to advance to the rest of the experiment. Results indicated that those in the specific instruction condition reached criterion faster and with fewer errors than those in the vague instruction condition. However, at test, those who received only vague instructions performed significantly faster on large and borrow problems than those who received specific instructions, but also performed significantly worse overall. Math anxiety and math achievement strengthened or weakened how well this skill was mastered but did not alter the overall pattern of results based on instruction type. This research suggests that instruction, above math anxiety and achievement, plays a significant role in how students learn math, eventually contributing to the pursuit of math in the future.