Mathematics is a critical domain in education, and students’ performance and motivation levels can vary greatly when learning mathematics. Using data obtained from PISA 2012 assessment on the US high school students’ mathematics learning, this study examined the underlying mechanism through which mathematics self-concept affects students’ mathematics performance. Utilizing a regression-based PROCESS macro, the study revealed that students’ mathematics self-concept can have a significant impact on their mathematics performance by reducing mathematics learning anxiety. Additionally, an ordinary least squares regression indicated that the positive impact of mathematics self-concept on reducing mathematics learning anxiety was amplified by teacher cognitive activation. The findings of this study provide valuable insights into the importance of teacher support and student self-concept in promoting mathematics education. The results indicate that students’ mathematics self-concept should be nurtured to help them develop a positive attitude towards mathematics and reduce anxiety levels, leading to better performance. Additionally, teachers can play a crucial role in helping students overcome mathematics learning anxiety by promoting cognitive activation.
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