Skip to main content

Measuring reading anxiety in college students

Abstract

The goal of the present study was to create a brief reliable scale for measuring reading anxiety in college students, a time when reading demands are particularly high. Results revealed individual differences in reading anxiety in a sample of 402 university students, showing reliable measurements from a 10-item scale and replicated in a sample of 198 undergraduates. Reading anxiety related to reading fluency, reading self-concept, self-perception of reading ability compared to others, reading enjoyment, and reading for pleasure frequency. Furthermore, higher reading anxiety was observed in students with a known learning disability compared to those without. How well each of the 10 items differentiated levels of reading anxiety were explored using a graded response model. We provide evidence for the reading-specific nature of reading anxiety by demonstrating a higher correlation between reading anxiety and reading fluency than math fluency and that reading anxiety exists separable from general and social anxiety.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  • Ashcraft, M. H., & Krause, J. A. (2007). Working memory, math performance, and math anxiety. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 243–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baer, J. D., Cook, A. L., & Baldi, S. (2006). The literacy of America’s college students. American Institutes for Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bandura, A. (1997). The anatomy of stages of change. American Journal of Health Promotion: AJHP, 12(1), 8–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bandura, A., & Shunk, M. (1981). Cultivating confidence, self-efficacy and interest through proximal motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 125–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barroso, C., Ganley, C. M., McGraw, A. L., Geer, E. A., Hart, S. A., & Daucourt, M. C. (2021). A meta-analysis of the relation between math anxiety and math achievement. Psychological Bulletin, 147(2), 134–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beck, A. T., & Clark, D. A. (1997). An information processing model of anxiety: Automatic and strategic processes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35(1), 49–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bender, W. N., & Wall, M. E. (1994). Social-emotional development of students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 17(4), 323–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Betz, N. E. (1978). Prevalence, distribution, and correlates of math anxiety in college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 25(5), 441–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blair, C. (2002). School readiness: Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of children’s functioning at school entry. American Psychologist, 57(2), 111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bryan, T., Burstein, K., & Ergul, C. (2004). The social-emotional side of learning disabilities: A science-based presentation of the state of the art. Learning Disability Quarterly, 27(1), 45–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carey, E., Hill, F., Devine, A., & Szücs, D. (2016). The chicken or the egg? The direction of the relationship between mathematics anxiety and mathematics performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1987.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, J. M., & Iles, J. E. (2006). An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(3), 651–662.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cipora, K., Szczygieł, M., Willmes, K., & Nuerk, H. C. (2015). Math anxiety assessment with the Abbreviated Math Anxiety Scale: Applicability and usefulness: Insights from the Polish adaptation. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1833.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Connor, K. M., Kobak, K. A., Churchill, L. E., Katzelnick, D., & Davidson, J. R. (2001). Mini-SPIN: A brief screening assessment for generalized social anxiety disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 14(2), 137–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conradi, K., Jang, B. G., & McKenna, M. C. (2014). Motivation terminology in reading research: A conceptual review. Educational Psychology Review, 26(1), 127–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33(6), 934.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Deacon, S. H., Cook, K., & Parrila, R. (2012). Identifying high-functioning dyslexics: Is self-report of early reading problems enough? Annals of Dyslexia, 62(2), 120–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diedenhofen, B., & Musch, J. (2015). cocor: A comprehensive solution for the statistical comparison of correlations. PLoS ONE, 10(4), e0121945.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Durik, A. M., Vida, M., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Task values and ability beliefs as predictors of high school literacy choices: A developmental analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(2), 382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elksnin, L. K., & Elksnin, N. (2004). The social-emotional side of learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 27, 1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Espino, M., Pereda, J., Recon, J., Perculeza, E., & Umali, C. (2017). Mathematics anxiety and its impact on the course and career choice of grade 11 students. International Journal of Education, Psychology and Counselling, 2(5), 99–119.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eysenck, M. W. (1998). Working memory capacity in high trait-anxious and repressor groups. Cognition & Emotion, 12(5), 697–713.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eysenck, M. W., & Calvo, M. G. (1992). Anxiety and performance: The processing efficiency theory. Cognition & Emotion, 6(6), 409–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eysenck, M. W., Derakshan, N., Santos, R., & Calvo, M. G. (2007). Anxiety and cognitive performance: Attentional control theory. Emotion, 7(2), 336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson, A. M., Maloney, E. A., Fugelsang, J., & Risko, E. F. (2015). On the relation between math and spatial ability: The case of math anxiety. Learning and Individual Differences, 39, 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Francis, D. A., Caruana, N., Hudson, J. L., & McArthur, G. M. (2019). The association between poor reading and internalising problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 67, 45–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ganley, C. M., & McGraw, A. L. (2016). The development and validation of a revised version of the math anxiety scale for young children. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • García, J. R., & Cain, K. (2014). Decoding and reading comprehension: A meta-analysis to identify which reader and assessment characteristics influence the strength of the relationship in English. Review of Educational Research, 84(1), 74–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gençer, Y., & Demirgünes, S. (2019). An analysis of secondary school students’ anxiety levels according to parameters of gender, grade level, socioeconomic level and reading frequency. International Education Studies, 12(9), 91–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gill, J. T., Jr. (1989). The relationship between word recognition and spelling in the primary grades. Reading Psychology, 10, 117–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hart, S. A., & Ganley, C. M. (2019). The nature of math anxiety in adults: Prevalence and correlates. Journal of Numerical Cognition, 5(2), 122–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helmke, A. (1999). From optimism to realism? Development of children’s academic self-concept from kindergarten to grade six. In W. Schneider & F. E. Weinert (Eds.), Individual development from 3 to 12. Findings from the Munich Longitudinal Study (pp. 198–221). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hembree, R. (1990). The nature, effects, and relief of mathematics anxiety. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21(1), 33–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Henk, W. A., & Melnick, S. A. (1995). The Reader Self-Perception Scale (RSPS): A new tool for measuring how children feel about themselves as readers. The Reading Teacher, 48(6), 470–482.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoy, C., Gregg, N., Wisenbaker, J., Manglitz, E., King, M., & Moreland, C. (1997). Depression and anxiety in two groups of adults with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 20(4), 280–291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ivey, G. (1999). A multicase study in the middle school: Complexities among young adolescent readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 34(2), 172–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jalongo, M. R., & Hirsh, R. A. (2010). Understanding reading anxiety: New insights from neuroscience. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(6), 431–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jansen, B. R., Louwerse, J., Straatemeier, M., Van der Ven, S. H., Klinkenberg, S., & Van der Maas, H. L. (2013). The influence of experiencing success in math on math anxiety, perceived math competence, and math performance. Learning and Individual Differences, 24, 190–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kasperski, R., Shany, M., & Katzir, T. (2016). The role of RAN and reading rate in predicting reading self-concept. Reading and Writing, 29(1), 117–136. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9582-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Katzir, T., Kim, Y. S. G., & Dotan, S. (2018). Reading self-concept and reading anxiety in second grade children: The roles of word reading, emergent literacy skills, working memory and gender. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: II. Channels of group life; social planning and action research. Human Relations, 1(2), 143–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lohbeck, A., Nitkowski, D., & Petermann, F. (2016). A control-value theory approach: Relationships between academic self-concept, interest, and test anxiety in elementary school children. Child and Youth Care Forum, 45, 887–904.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Luttenberger, S., Wimmer, S., & Paechter, M. (2018). Spotlight on math anxiety. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 11, 311–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meece, J. L., Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (1990). Predictors of math anxiety and its influence on young adolescents’ course enrollment intentions and performance in mathematics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 60–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meng, X. L., Rosenthal, R., & Rubin, D. B. (1992). Comparing correlated correlation coefficients. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Musu-Gillette, L. E. (2014). Motivational processes and the pursuit of postsecondary education. Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park.

  • Nelson, J. M., & Gregg, N. (2012). Depression and anxiety among transitioning adolescents and college students with ADHD, dyslexia, or comorbid ADHD/dyslexia. Journal of Attention Disorders, 16(3), 244–254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nelson, J. M., & Harwood, H. (2011). Learning disabilities and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(1), 3–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Núñez-Peña, M. I., Guilera, G., & Suárez-Pellicioni, M. (2014). The single-item math anxiety scale: An alternative way of measuring mathematical anxiety. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 32(4), 306–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Perez, T., Cromley, J. G., & Kaplan, A. (2014). The role of identity development, values, and costs in college STEM retention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1), 315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piccolo, L. R., Giacomoni, C. H., Julio-Costa, A., Oliveira, S., Zbornik, J., Haase, V. G., & Salles, J. F. (2017). Reading anxiety in L1: Reviewing the concept. Early Childhood Education Journal, 45(4), 537–543.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piercey, R. R. (2013). Reading self-efficacy in early adolescence: Which measure works best. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.

  • R Core Team. (2020). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. https://www.R-project.org/

  • Ramirez, G., Fries, L., Gunderson, E., Schaeffer, M. W., Maloney, E. A., Beilock, S. L., & Levine, S. C. (2019). Reading anxiety: An early affective impediment to children’s success in reading. Journal of Cognition and Development, 20(1), 15–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramirez, G., Shaw, S. T., & Maloney, E. A. (2018). Math anxiety: Past research, promising interventions, and a new interpretation framework. Educational Psychologist, 53(3), 145–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rasinski, T. V., Chang, S. C., Edmondson, E., Nageldinger, J., Nigh, J., Remark, L., Kenney, K. S., Walsh-Moorman, E., Yildirim, K., Nichols, W. D., Paige, D. D., & Rupley, W. H. (2017). Reading fluency and college readiness. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 60(4), 453–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Retelsdorf, J., Köller, O., & Möller, J. (2014). Reading achievement and reading self-concept–Testing the reciprocal effects model. Learning and Instruction, 29, 21–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rizopoulos, D. (2006). ltm: an r package for latent variable modelling and item response theory analyses. Journal of Statistical Software, 17, 1–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosseel, Y. (2012). Lavaan: An R package for structural equation modeling and more. Version 0.5–12 (BETA). Journal of Statistical Software, 48(2), 1–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sarason, I. G. (1975). Test anxiety and the self-disclosing coping model. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43(2), 148–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seipp, B. (1991). Anxiety and academic performance: A meta-analysis of findings. Anxiety Research, 4(1), 27–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shavelson, R. J., Hubner, J. J., & Stanton, G. C. (1976). Self-concept: Validation of construct interpretations. Review of Educational Research, 46(3), 407–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shell, D. F., Murphy, C. C., & Bruning, R. H. (1989). Self-efficacy and outcome expectancy mechanisms in reading and writing achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(1), 91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shunk, D. (1984). Sequential attributional feedback and children’s achievement behaviors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 1159–1169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson, M. L., & Nist, S. L. (2000). An update on strategic learning: It’s more than textbook reading strategies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(6), 528–541.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spitzer, R. L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J. B., & Löwe, B. (2006). A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092–1097.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tobias, S. (1986). Peer perspectives: On the teaching of science. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 18(2), 36–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Uhrlass, D. J., Schofield, C. A., Coles, M. E., & Gibb, B. E. (2009). Self-perceived competence and prospective changes in symptoms of depression and social anxiety. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 40(2), 329–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vilaplana-Pérez, A., Pérez-Vigil, A., Sidorchuk, A., Brander, G., Isomura, K., Hesselmark, E., Kuja-Halkola, R., Larsson, H., Mataix-Cols, D., & de la Cruz, L. F. (2021). Much more than just shyness: The impact of social anxiety disorder on educational performance across the lifespan. Psychological Medicine, 51(5), 861–869.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wiederholt, J. L., & Bryant, B. R. (2001). GORT 4 gray oral reading tests examiner’s manual. Pro-Ed.

    Google Scholar 

  • Xie, F., Xin, Z., Chen, X., & Zhang, L. (2019). Gender difference of Chinese high school students’ math anxiety: The effects of self-esteem, test anxiety and general anxiety. Sex Roles, 81(3), 235–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zbornik, J. J. (1988). Empirical and theoretical extension of a reading anxiety paradigm. Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University, Kent.

  • Zbornik, J. (2001). Test anxiety: Conceptualization and remediation strategies. American Psychiatric Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zbornik, J. J., & Wallbrown, F. H. (1991). The development and validation of a scale to measure reading anxiety. Reading Improvement, 28(1), 2.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeidner, M. (1998). Test anxiety: The state of the art. Plenum Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ashley A. Edwards.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Figs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Item Response Category Curves for item 1 (Do you feel self-conscious about your reading ability?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 5
figure 5

Item Response Category Curves for item 2 (Do you feel uncomfortable reading out loud in front of people?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 6
figure 6

Item Response Category Curves for item 3 (Do you fear people correcting you when you make a mistake reading?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 7
figure 7

Item Response Category Curves for item 4 (Do you worry you don’t understand what you read?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 8
figure 8

Item Response Category Curves for item 5 (Do you avoid reading?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 9
figure 9

Item Response Category Curves for item 6 (Does reading make you upset?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 10
figure 10

Item Response Category Curves for item 7 (Does reading make you nervous?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 11
figure 11

Item Response Category Curves for item 8 (Does having to read a book or textbook feel like an insurmountable task?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 12
figure 12

Item Response Category Curves for item 9 (Does looking through/reading a textbook for class feel overwhelming?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

Fig. 13
figure 13

Item Response Category Curves for item 10 (Do you have reading anxiety?). The x-axis represents the latent trait score of reading anxiety and the y-axis represents the probability of selecting a response at a given latent trait score. The probability of selecting a 1 is depicted by the black line, 2 in red, 3 in green, 4 in dark blue, and 5 in light blue. (Color figure online)

.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Edwards, A.A., Daucourt, M.C., Hart, S.A. et al. Measuring reading anxiety in college students. Read Writ (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-022-10324-z

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-022-10324-z

Keywords

  • Reading anxiety
  • Reading self-concept
  • College students