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What is Math Anxiety? How Can Smartick Help?

math anxiety

Math anxiety is defined as the feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with performance in mathematics (McLeod, 1994). And it is not something exclusive to students that are not good at math, anyone can suffer from it. According to the World Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 30% of adolescents experience an increase in anxiety when having to solve a math problem.

Certain pressures exist that are associated with math at school and in daily life, mainly for two reasons:

  • Because math implies knowledge that is considered basic and openly evaluated at school.
  • For the habitual association between mathematics and intelligence.

One of the consequences of this pressure is mathematics anxiety.

Who suffers from math anxiety?

Why do these situations create anxiety for some people? We have asked professor Javier García Orza, coordinator of the Numerical Cognition Laboratory at the University of Málaga. Mathematics anxiety in children without dyscalculia could be associated with certain personality types. Thus, insecure children, with higher anxiety levels who feel negatively about their math abilities (whether true or not) and sensitive to criticism appear to be more vulnerable to it.

For people with dyscalculia, where there is an objective difficulty in math skills, the distance between a person’s ability and school demand is enough to generate anxiety. Children with dyscalculia are routinely aware of their disabilities and this can lead to anxiety about math situations. This anxiety, coupled with their learning disabilities, generates even worse performance. That is, math anxiety accentuates the problem of dyscalculia, hence the need to address the emotional aspects during intervention for this disorder.

How can Smartick help?

Now let’s look at some of the main aspects of Smartick that make it a valuable and efficient method for learning math for children with math anxiety.


Children with high mathematics anxiety often express negative attitudes toward math and usually low motivation to learn (Hembree, 1990). The Smartick method, through its gamification, makes children more motivated and, even more, it becomes intrinsic. This motivation is essential to activate curiosity and maintain a desire to continue learning.


Feedback about children’s performance is another way to reduce the negative effects of math anxiety (Núñez-Peña, 2015). At Smartick, feedback during each session is always timely and thorough, informing students when they are learning (positive feedback) and what they should do to address the gaps in their learning.

Perfect personalization

To reduce mathematics anxiety it is important to respect the rhythm of each child. In line with this principle, Smartick’s algorithm places each student at the threshold for their maximum competence after an entry test. Then, depending on how they do in each session, they are given exercises adapted to their level. This avoids potential frustrations children may have when faced with math, respecting the pace of each student.


  • Hembree, R. (1990). The nature, effects, and relief of mathematics anxiety. J. Res. Math. Educ. 21, 33–46.
  • McLeod, D.B. (1994). Research on affect and mathematics learning in the JRME: 1970 to the present. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 25, 637-647.
  • Núñez-Peña, M. I., Bono, R., & Suárez-Pellicioni, M. (2015). Feedback on students’ performance: A possible way of reducing the negative effect of math anxiety in higher education. International Journal of Educational Research70, 80-87.

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PhD in Educational Psychology specializing in learning mathematics and currently is part of Smartick's Content Development team. A children's yoga teacher and a sun and nature lover.
Hiwet Costa

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