Why the anxiety among students when it comes to statistics

By Idayu Noorzan

Ever imagine at the age of 22, having your name written in a research paper, and your topic focused on the most hated subject by students – research methodology and statistics?  How awe-inspiring would that be? What would it take to produce such a research?

For Mohd Karimi Sulaiman, who has been involved in research work during his undergraduate days, he believes that attitude is the key to everything. Be it political, economic, environment, and even statistics.

He said, “Most students, especially arts major, thought they are no longer subjected to learn research method and statistics. Unfortunately they are wrong. When you have a negative attitude towards objects, ideas, events, or other people, it will affect your thinking, behaviour and emotion.”

And why is it that research methodology and statistics so significant? According to Karimi since Psychology is an evidence-based field, these two subjects matter the most. He said, “If you have a very strong foundation in these subjects it will help you in building your future career.”

He took Psychological Statistics in his second year with Dr. Harris Shah and was inspired to do research because many of his classmates were really anxious in the class compared to other subjects. He even asked Dr. Harris himself why are the students behaving in such a way. Later, Dr. Harris proposed to do a research together with him to find out the reason why.

In 2014, the research paper was published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science titled ‘Statistics anxiety and achievement in a statistics course among psychology students’.

Another research paper is on ‘Factor structure of Statistical Anxiety Scale (SAS) for a Malaysian sample’. The research paper highlighted the three main components that affect the students’ anxiety towards the subject.

Firstly, attitude or belief either positive or negative that can be manifested through our thinking, behaviour and emotion. Secondly, the anxiety level. Too much is never good even if it is a good thing. High anxiety level will result in lower statistic achievement. Lastly, mathematical ability. “I still remember my students took about 15 seconds to answer 2×2,” he added. Basic knowledge and skill will definitely help the students to achieve good result in statistics.

Recently, as part of my journalism course, I had the opportunity to interview Mohd Karimi who has just graduated from IIUM with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology to find out more about his excellent performance and the secrets of his success.

Originating from Tumpat, Kelantan, this 24-ear old student who is currently pursuing his Masters degree in this university shared his experiences and views about psychology and life.

Here are the highlights of my interview with Mohd Karimi Sulaiman:

Question: Can you tell me about yourself?

Answer: My name is Mohd Karimi Sulaiman from Tumpat, Kelantan. I am 24 years old. I started my tertiary education in 2011 at CFS (Centre for Foundation Studies). I was in the one-year programme. After that, I entered Gombak campus in 2012 and managed to finish my degree in four years. I graduated last year in 2015 with a Bachelor of Human Sciences (Honours) Psychology minoring in IRK (Islamic Revealed Knowledge).

Question: Before graduating, you held a position as President of PSYCSTA (Psychology Student Association) and the President of KIRKHS societies. Does joining societies help to shape who you are right now?

Answer: I would say yes. I started with PSYCSTA Secretariat in my second year, followed by being an EXCO in the third year and President of PSYCSTA during fourth year. However, it was only for a very brief moment roughly around four months before I got elected as the President of Kulliyah IRKHS societies. Once you join a society your responsibility in the university is added up. Your commitment therefore should be a balance between study and society.

Question: What is your highest achievement in IIUM? Is there anything memorable about your undergraduate days that you want to share?

Answer: I was not the best student because there are other students who are better than me. But I would like to share my experiences attending an academic conference and an exchange programme. I attended three international and one local academic conferences. Young researchers were welcome to contribute to building the body of knowledge. We need new ideas and enthusiastic characters in achieving the goal.

Question: Can you share the nature of the exchange programme that you attended? 

Answer: I went to Melbourne, Thailand and Indonesia. Most of these programme lasted for two weeks. In Indonesia at University Muhammadiah Solo we discussed at length exclusively on Islamisation of Psychology with the students and lecturers. Most of our references are from the West hence there are certain aspects that we as Muslim do not agree. We are not totally rejecting the idea but integration of knowledge is very crucial. Only then we can appreciate both parties. This is in line with our beloved university’s mission in reinforcing the International character of IIUM through the implementation of “Islamisation, Internationalisation, Integration, and Comprehensive Excellence” (Triple-ICE) principles.

Question: Do you have any work experiences?

Answer: During my undergraduate studies, I became a tutor at SLEU (Student Learning Enhancement Unit) to help students gain comprehensive understanding outside the classroom. SLEU helps to enhance communication skills, providing a dynamic learning culture and increase confidence level of students. After graduating, I worked as a part-time lecturer at CFS and then I received offer from Gombak campus to pursue my Masters. I fell in love with teaching but I have to leave my job to further my studies.

Question: Psychology is a very vast and colourful field. What is your interest and your master’s degree about?

Answer: My main intention to further my studies at Master’s level is because I want to become a lecturer. In Malaysia to be a lecturer you need to have at least a Masters’ degree. Since my study is research mode my focus is on educational psychology. I am looking into the predictor of achievement in Statistics. Basically, I am interested in the factors that contribute to the achievement in Statistics. Since I came from pure science background and I love numbers I guess that is also the reason why I am very interested in Statistics.

Question: Laymen see psychology as something related with ‘crazy’ or ‘abnormal’. How about in Malaysia?

Answer: Psychology is the scientific study of human behaviour and mental processes. I would not deny the fact that we do study about abnormalities, but that is not all. We learn psychometric, social, motivation and many more. Generally, we are still lacking behind on the exposure and the right understanding about psychology. Even in my case, I only know about psychology during my Foundation studies. Taboos and negative thoughts may be the basis why people show skepticisms towards psychology. The most popular question everyone will ask is “Can you read my mind?” We will never be able to do so because that is not what we are capable of.

Question: In this modern world of high technology and advance sciences, how relevant is it to study psychology? Why is psychology important?

Answer: It is not only psychology, all other fields should be given the opportunity to develop and advance. Recently, bully cases received tremendous attention nationwide. If we were to view it from psychological point of view, we need to go back to main goals of psychology. There are four main goals, which are to describe, explain, predict and control the behaviour and mental processes of others. We seek the underlying reasons of certain phenomenon and information gathered can be used to predict the occurrence of event. Once we know what happened, why it happened and what is is likely to happen in the future, we can have a degree of control over it.

Question: Can you share your views on the research you carried out with Dr. Harris Shah on the statistics and research anxiety? 

Answer: Dr. Harris and I produced two research papers which are ‘Statistics anxiety and achievement in a statistics course among psychology students’ and ‘Factor structure of Statistical Anxiety Scale (SAS) for a Malaysian sample’. It all started with my personal observation where some of my classmates were really nervous in Dr. Harris statistics class. I even asked Dr. Harris why are the students behaving like that. He then proposed to do a research together, as he was also interested about the issue.

The findings show there are three main components that can affect students’ performance and achievements in statistics class. The first one is, the attitude. Out attitude can either be positive or negative and eventually will affect our thinking pattern, behaviour and emotion. Secondly, the anxiety level. Too much of anything is never good even for great things. Students with high anxiety level will have lower achievement in statistics. Lastly, the mathematical ability. If you have a strong basis on mathematics it will help to perform well in statistics class. I clearly remember one situation where my student at CFS took about 15 seconds to answer 2×2. It should not take that long to answer such a simple question.

Question: It is quite impressive to be able to write a research paper at undergraduate level. From your point of view, what is the ‘must have value’ to be a good researcher?

Answer: I believe in independent effort. Explore the nature and try to learn something new. I encouraged students to watch YouTube because there many things you can learn from there. Next, one should be critical. While doing research you will have different findings from the same research topic. Even they are not the same, it is not like the other is right compared to the other. Read and understand only then you criticise and come up with your own conclusion. Always upgrade and polish up your skills. If you are not good enough, try to be more resourceful. It is important for us to understand the theory and apply it into real life. Never be afraid to ask for help from seniors, mentor or your lecturer. In my case, I keep attached with Dr. Harris and this help in mapping of what research is all about. When you have a reliable reference, it is a bonus because you have the first hand information.

Question: Any tips on time management? Students’ complaint that 24 hours are not enough for them.

Answer: When you entered the university, you registered as a student at your respective department. Your main priority is to study. Joining a society should help you become more aware of time because we need to spend our time well. Sadly, some students ignore this. They focus more on their society rather than study. Make sure that you work for your department. As a Muslim, being amanah is very important. Plan your study. Make sure there are gaps between the classes to avoid overwhelming work load. Find a balance between core course and elective subjects. You should be able to score in IRK subjects.

Question: What is the significance of consultation hours with lecturers?

Answer: Consultation hours is not for the lecturers but for the students. In my opinion, you need to understand your lecturer and this should be the first step when you register for a subject. Consultation hours would provide students with extra time and privacy if they are afraid or shy to ask questions in class.

Question: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Answer: My short term goal is to complete my Masters with flying colours and continue my journey for PhD. After that, perhaps I will become an academician or a lecturer. The main reason why I do my Masters is simply because in Malaysia you need at least a Masters degree to become a lecturer.

Question: Any last words and advices for future graduates?

Answer: In university life, you have to be both individualistic and collectivistic accordingly. When you are in society, you must work in a team in order to achieve the goal and objectives. Group assignment requires everyone’s commitment to get a good grade. However, there is always one or two persons who are free riders. If your effort does not work to gain everybody’s cooperation, just go on. You should do whatever it takes to make sure that you achieve a good grades despite it being a group assignment. Never let anyone take you away from your dream. You can ask for advice and opinion from others but at the end of the day it is you who make the decision. Once you have decided, never give up and always strive for excellence. Challenges will always be there, people do complain and you may be disheartened. Believe in yourself and ask for strength and patience from Allah SWT.***

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