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Academic Procrastination and Statistics

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Article Critique: Academic Procrastination and Statistics Anxiety by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie

Introduction: Summary of the Article

Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Academic procrastination and statistics anxiety. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 29(1), 3-19.

In this article, the author continues his earlier research of the statistics anxiety subject on a new population. The research paper purpose is twofold: to quantify the level of procrastination among graduate students, as opposed to the previous studies of undergraduate students, and to test the relation between academic procrastination and the six selected dimensions of statistics anxiety (determined in 1985 by Cruise et al. using the factor analysis). The study was performed on a sample of 135 graduate students enrolled in an introductory research course in one small university. The participants evaluated their levels of statistics anxiety and academic procrastination in the two provided scales. The reports revealed a high frequency of procrastination experiences among the graduate students. Using a canonical correlation to estimate the strength of the relationship between the studied metrics, the author confirmed a significant correlation between the two major factors of academic procrastination and the six statistics anxiety dimensions. The author provides detailed comments on the limitations of his research, which will be augmented below. In addition to the data analysis, possible intervention actions to reduce the level of statistics anxiety are suggested, including traditional time management and control techniques, as well as cognitive interventions.

In-Depth Critique of the Article

In the sections that follow the elements of the Onwuegbuzies work will be assessed, including the validity of research objectives, the quality of the sources used, the methodology used to gather, evaluate and interpret the data. The critique is summarized with an overall evaluation of the research.

The Purpose, Objectives of the Study, and Literature Review

The author clearly formulated the purpose of his research, provided arguments for its importance, and outlined the structure of his work in the abstract. Namely, the issue of statistics anxiety is ubiquitous among graduate students, and there is empirical evidence of this problem, having a negative impact on academic performance. The finding that the problem persists among the 80% of graduate students emphasizes the importance of research and its practical implications.

The study is supported by the extensive analysis of academic sources, which contain a solid base of empirical data to back up the current research. The author presents statistics on academic procrastination and the six dimensions of statistics anxiety. Fear of failure and task aversiveness is identified as the two main factors that influence academic procrastination. However, most papers were written either before the 1990-s or by the author himself (in cooperation with other researchers). This relates to the fact that the author was reportedly the first to perform the research on this new type of audience.

Namely, the paper introduces the novelty to previous research works by examining a sample of graduate students. The author assumes that the findings discovered for undergraduate students should be relevant for the new population. He sets the objective to test the validity of these hypotheses for graduate students and to present the supporting empirical findings. A research of literature sources confirms that the author, indeed, presented the topic for the first time, after which it was elaborated by other researchers.

The Research Methodology and Data Analysis Methods Evaluation

The author provided clear definitions for all terms and concepts used or referenced in the paper; he also presented the detailed framework for the methodology used to gather and interpret the data. All surveys complied with ethical and confidentiality standards: the research was performed on an anonymized sample data collected from the students who were properly informed about the nature of the survey, participated voluntarily, and signed the consent documents. Whereas the research design and methodology were identified clearly, they contain some drawbacks related to the way the data was gathered and potentially influencing the research outcomes.

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Namely, the fact that the survey participants received extra course credit might introduce a sampling bias to the study and affect the results obtained: the observed levels of the studied behaviors could be overstated. Another disadvantage of the sample relates to the fact that the data was gathered from the students of specific disciplines, who are prone to problems with statistics courses. Additionally, the fact that the survey was conducted among the students of one small university, could contribute to the sample’s non-randomness. The sample design also explains the small size of the sample and the inability to assess the results across any of the grouping variables; no pilot or repeated studies were feasible. The survey should have been performed on a larger sample, including more specializations in other universities. It should be noted that the author addresses the most evident fact of the sample bias, the overwhelming prevalence of female participants by measuring the reliability of the results across gender via Wilcoxon two-sample tests for all six metrics of statistics anxiety. The method should be appropriate for the test purpose, provided that the distribution of answers is symmetrical around the median levels (DeCoster, 2006).

The instruments used to gather the survey data are two surveys based on Likert scales, which is the appropriate classical method for this type of study. The Statistical Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS) was designed in 1980 by Cruise and Wilkins. The author tested the reliability of the scores for the six reported dimensions and the scores were reliable, with the lowest reliability coefficients (0.81 and 0.83) obtained for the fear of asking for help and fear of the statistics instructor, and the most reliable score (0.96) obtained for the worth of statistics, that is how relevant the students deem their statistics course. The Procrastination Assessment Scale-Students (PASS), developed by Solomon and Rothblum in 1984, was used to measure the levels of academic procrastination for six types of academic tasks. The author uses the usual descriptive statistics, presented in a convenient table format to compare the results of the graduate students with the behavior of the norm group. An important disadvantage of this approach is that the comparison was made for the different populations. However the norm group was selected by the researchers in the 1980-s from college students, and there are significant differences in the sample design, age distribution, the background of participants, and other factors that decrease the validity of the comparisons the author made. The method can only serve to identify some interesting areas for further study, not to draw any statistically significant patterns.

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The canonical correlation analysis was performed to solve the second objective of the study. The paper relies on the substantial body of theories, such as Thompsons’ study of 1984, Lambert and Durant of 1975. Given that the method is classical, this is appropriate. However, some outdated methods are used, as well, such as the Bonferroni adjustment, which is considered ineffective in some sources (Perneger, 1998), and could be replaced by less conservative methods.

Evaluation of the Results Discussion, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Overall, the author provided sufficient theoretical base and empirical evidence, related to both parts of his research objectives. Regarding the first objective, the numbers illustrating the high level of academic procrastination among the graduate students were provided. Additionally, the author gave evidence on the self-assessment of the importance of this problem to the students and linked the results to a number of previous studies of these issues, which were presented in the literature review. As for the second objective, the paper contains solid analysis and valid data to conclude that all six dimensions of statistics anxiety made a large contribution to the observed levels of academic procrastination. An important comment, noted by the author, that there could be a bidirectional causality between these phenomena. This implies that some other statistical methods, e.g. regression analysis, could enhance the research and improve the validity of results.

The paper contains a comprehensive report on the limitations of the research and the corresponding ideas for additional research, which greatly contributes to the author’s methodic approach and further confirms his profound knowledge of the subject studied. The author also links the research to current pedagogical practice by discussing the possible intervention actions to decrease the negative impact of the observed behaviors.

Concluding Remarks

In his work, the author presented a solid, properly referenced (if somewhat outdated), theoretical background and provided a good analysis of empirical findings to describe the prevalence of the studied phenomena, their relationship, and practical implications. Despite some evident gaps in the survey design and analysis methodology, the article effectively started the research of statistics anxiety and related procrastination issues in a novel segment of graduate students, which was continued in the last decade by researchers worldwide in a wide range of disciplines.

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