Math Anxiety During the Transition from Primary to Secondary School

  • Lars OrbachEmail author
  • Moritz Herzog
  • Annemarie Fritz


This study investigated trait-math anxiety during the transition from primary to secondary school. Currently, very disparate findings exist for primary school and early secondary school students, which can be explained by inconsistent definitions and different operationalizations of math anxiety, amongst other reasons. This study is aimed at contributing to the definition of terms. For this purpose, a questionnaire based on the psychological state-trait anxiety model was examined. Trait-math anxiety, self-ratings of math skills, attitudes towards mathematics, math achievement and intelligence of 1289 students (48.6% girls) from grades 4 and 5 were assessed. A characteristic distribution of trait-math anxiety and different types of trait-math anxiety were found. It was found that 1.3% of children were maximal trait-math anxious, 4% were high trait-math anxious and 12% were low trait-math anxious. In comparison to children without trait-math anxiety, the trait-math anxiety group had a significantly higher IQ and poorer self-ratings and attitudes, and only in secondary school did they show significantly better math performances. Furthermore, a similar tendency exists for math achievement in primary school. The data underline the complexity of the relationship between trait-math anxiety and math performance. As in previous surveys on trait-math anxiety, no negative correlation was found. In secondary school a positive correlation existed for boys. Although our study proved a clear gender difference for trait-math anxiety in general, no gender differences were found in higher trait-math anxiety expressions. As the extent of trait-math anxiety decreased, gender differences were increasingly manifested. The self-rating of math skills was examined as a key factor for the development of trait-math anxiety. Students who perceive their math skills as low have a greater risk for trait-math anxiety. When comparing different types of schools, more students from Gymnasium, a school type with higher requirements, showed trait-math anxiety. These findings highlight the role of school expectations and peers’ abilities to prevent and alleviate math anxiety in class.


Math anxiety State anxiety and trait anxiety Primary school children Mathematical learning disability Clinical diagnostics 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany
  2. 2.University of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

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