Measuring numeracy without a math test: development of the Subjective Numeracy Scale.


Journal Article

BACKGROUND: Basic numeracy skills are necessary before patients can understand the risks of medical treatments. Previous research has used objective measures, similar to mathematics tests, to evaluate numeracy. OBJECTIVES: To design a subjective measure (i.e., self-assessment) of quantitative ability that distinguishes low- and high-numerate individuals yet is less aversive, quicker to administer, and more usable for telephone and Internet surveys than existing numeracy measures. RESEARCH DESIGN: Paper-and-pencil questionnaires. SUBJECTS: The general public (N = 703) surveyed at 2 hospitals. MEASURES: Forty-nine subjective numeracy questions were compared to measures of objective numeracy. RESULTS: An 8-item measure, the Subjective Numeracy Scale (SNS), was developed through several rounds of testing. Four items measure people's beliefs about their skill in performing various mathematical operations, and 4 measure people's preferences regarding the presentation of numerical information. The SNS was significantly correlated with Lipkus and others' objective numeracy scale (correlations: 0.63-0.68) yet was completed in less time (24 s/item v. 31 s/item, P < 0.05) and was perceived as less stressful (1.62 v. 2.69, P < 0.01) and less frustrating (1.92 v. 2.88, P < 0.01). Fifty percent of participants who completed the SNS volunteered to participate in another study, whereas only 8% of those who completed the Lipkus and others scale similarly volunteered (odds ratio = 11.00, 95% confidence interval = 2.14-56.65). CONCLUSIONS: The SNS correlates well with mathematical test measures of objective numeracy but can be administered in less time and with less burden. In addition, it is much more likely to leave participants willing to participate in additional research and shows much lower rates of missing or incomplete data.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Fagerlin, A; Zikmund-Fisher, BJ; Ubel, PA; Jankovic, A; Derry, HA; Smith, DM

Published Date

  • September 2007

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 27 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 672 - 680

PubMed ID

  • 17641137

Pubmed Central ID

  • 17641137

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-681X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0272-989X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0272989x07304449


  • eng