A new scale of mathematical problem complexity and its application to understanding fear of mathematics

(1) Treamis World School


Fear of mathematics appears to be a global phenomenon. However, it has primarily been studied in isolation despite mathematics being part of a school curriculum with multiple subjects. We reason that the relative difficulty of mathematics compared to other subjects could be a factor behind the fear of mathematics. We explored this line of reasoning by hypothesizing that middle and high school mathematics is more complex than English literature. To enable the testing of this hypothesis, we developed scoring methods for complexity. While the English complexity score was derived from the Flesch reading ease score, we introduced a new way of measuring the complexity of mathematical problems. Using these metrics on samples for English prose and mathematical problems for grades 5 through 11, we then established that mathematical complexity is relatively high. Analysis of intergrade changes in scores showed significant changes in mathematical complexity between grades 5 and 6, and grades 6 and 7. We recommend that mathematics curricula be spread over a more extended period or that the time spent on mathematics in school be increased to address this potential factor behind the fear of mathematics.

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