Session 2C | Paper 1 – What Factors Predict Performance in Research Methods Training Amongst Psychology Undergraduates?

Dr James Yearsley

Statistics and research methods training is an important part of an undergraduate psychology degree (BPS, 2019), however many students underperform in these areas relative to the rest of their degree, and there is a large body of evidence suggesting students feel considerable anxiety about these topics (eg Nesbit & Bourne, 2018). In this paper I present some work to identify the factors that might be used to predict which students would benefit from additional maths and statistics support as part of their research methods training. I examine whether available measures of prior achievement, and attitudes to statistics as measured by a commonly used questionnaire (Cruise, Cash & Bolton, 1985), can predict performance in a key first year statistics module. I will also present qualitative data generated from open text responses to an attitudes question and examine whether the most commonly used survey measure of attitudes to statistics adequately captures the range of attitudes expressed by my students.

I will show that the best predictors of achievement are educational pathway from 16-18, and attitudes towards the worth of statistics. Students who took BTEC qualifications achieved grades significantly lower than students who took three A-levels at age 18 (echoing Dilnot et al, 2022). There is also a significant association between an understanding of the worth and relevance of statistics and performance in this module. However, I will present evidence that student attitudes to statistics are complex, and negative attitudes to content can exist side by side with a positive appreciation of the usefulness of the subject.

I will conclude with a reflection on the significance of these findings for my own teaching practice and for research methods training in other degree programs. I will also briefly outline an intervention, ‘Stats for Beginners’, which uses problem-based learning approaches to improve student confidence.

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BPS (2019) Standards for the accreditation of undergraduate, conversion and integrated Masters programmes in psychology. Available online

Cruise, R. J., Cash, R. W., & Bolton, D. L. (1985). Development and validation of an instrument to measure statistical anxiety. Paper resented at the Proceedings of the American Statistical Association. Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dilnot, C, Macmillan, L & Wyness, G (2022). Educational Choices at 16-19 and University Outcomes. Nuffield Trust. Available here:

Nesbit, RJ & Bourne, VJ (2018). Statistics Anxiety Rating Scale (STARS) use in Psychology students: A review and analysis with an undergraduate sample. Psychology Teaching Review Vol. 24 No. 2, 101-110.

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