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Test Anxiety & Academic Performance

By McGraw-Hill Education 2 years agoNo Comments
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In the educational sphere, testing has become an increasingly important component in a student’s ability to succeed. Standardized testing is common, beginning in the early years of a student’s educational experience. Nearly every major college or university requires some sort of entrance exam or standardized test, and students will continue to face these exams throughout their post-secondary educational career. Noting that certain thresholds need to be met in order to pass a class or earn a degree, students can become understandably anxious about the testing process. However, there’s a difference between the normal levels of concern and stress prior to an exam and true test anxiety, which is a severe condition that impacts a significant number of students at the collegiate level.

Educators are beginning to recognize that test anxiety has an impact on the overall academic performance of an individual student. Recently, a study titled “Post-Secondary Educators’ Perceptions of Students’ Test Anxiety” was published in The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Conducted by five individuals from the University of New Brunswick and one from the University of Calgary, the study explored the reality of test anxiety on campus, the ability of educators to recognize this condition, and the impact that it had on student performances on campus.


Test Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

As with any type of anxiety, students who experience test anxiety will exhibit a variety of symptoms at different levels of severity. Some students will showcase physiological signs of test anxiety, including profuse sweating or a high heart rate. Others may exhibit behavioural symptoms, such as procrastinating before an important exam or avoiding responsibilities related to the exam. It’s important to note that test anxiety symptoms are far more severe than normal, moderate stress that typically occurs before an exam or test in the collegiate setting. Normal stress levels will motivate a student to prepare for an exam, while test anxiety causes a genuine fear that can impact a person’s ability to prepare or perform the exam itself.

There is no direct or concrete cause associated with test anxiety, but researchers are finding that there are certain factors that may predispose a person to this debilitating condition. According to the study, a person’s gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status may impact whether or not they suffer from test anxiety during their collegiate years. In some cases, the perception of test anxiety and the stigma associated with it can actually trigger the condition and increase the severity of the symptoms for the individual.

When recognized, treatment for test anxiety has been found to be quite effective. Students who suffer from test anxiety and have resources available to help them with their condition are likely to overcome the condition and succeed in the academic setting. The most common treatment option for test anxiety is psychological care with a counsellor or therapist, combined with training techniques that teach students how to better prepare for exams and take their tests. Through skill-building and counselling, students are able to overcome their fears and reduce the triggers that can incite the symptoms of test anxiety.

Signs and Treatment of Test Anxiety

How Does Test Anxiety Impact Student Performance? 

Research has revealed that test anxiety does have a negative impact on student performance. A study published on Research Gate and titled “The Relationship Between Test Anxiety and Student Achievement” noted that the nature of test anxiety is complex, with the fear and worry associated with the anxiety symptoms actually compounding the condition for many students. The worry about the anxiety ultimately leads to the onset of symptoms, which can cause poor performance on an exam in a post-secondary institution.

In addition, the fact that many educators do not recognize the signs and symptoms of test anxiety also can have an impact on student performance. In the study published in the The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the researchers noted that about 69 percent of educators were aware of the test anxiety condition but only 40 percent knew the signs and symptoms associated with it. The inability to recognize the onset of test anxiety can prevent an educator from offering help or making accommodations for the student who suffers from the condition. Ultimately, by not being aware of the presence of the condition, the student may be far more likely to inadequately perform on the exam despite having mastered the material in the course.

Controlling the factors that trigger the symptoms of test anxiety and seeking help from on-campus resources can help students overcome their condition and succeed in the classroom setting, where exams and tests are an inevitable part of the experience. It’s critical that educators also receive training about test anxiety, as this allows them to recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition so that they can provide help and resources when necessary.


Test Anxiety and Student Retention at Post-Secondary Institutions

The unique relationship between test anxiety, poor performance and the stigma surrounding the condition can impact the student retention rate at a college or university. While there are a wide variety of causes associated with test anxiety, some students feel anxious about taking an exam because of the fear that they will not do well or the memory of a prior experience in which the student was not able to recall pivotal information on an exam. If test anxiety remains a consistent issue for the individual student and it frequently leads to poor results on exams, a student may feel discouraged. Ultimately, the individual may decide that the university experience is not for them, and they may not complete their post-secondary education.

This is an alarming fact that educators need to know and recognize, particularly as they create the framework for their courses and develop the exams that are necessary in order to pass the class. While exams are an integral and necessary part of the post-secondary experience, test anxiety should not prevent a student from being able to complete the course or finish their degree program entirely.

By learning more about the symptoms, causes, triggers and treatment options available for test anxiety, educators can offer students the training resources that they need in order to overcome this condition and become comfortable taking exams once again. Training programs, such as time management training or study skills training, can help students learn to better prepare for exams which can minimize their discomfort with the situation. In addition, access to counselling services on campus can provide students with a place to discuss their concerns and fears. They also can work with these professionals in order to create a customized plan that allows them to succeed in the months and years to come.


Is Student Motivation Impacted by Test Anxiety?

Students who are afflicted by test anxiety may sometimes fall victim to behavioural symptoms, such as procrastination or lack of desire to prepare for exams. The preparation process can leave them feeling worried, upset, unhappy or unwell, which is why they may avoid the experience entirely. This becomes a vicious cycle which results in a poor testing experience, inadequate results and an increase in the anxiety associated with taking exams.

Test anxiety can lead to a lack of motivation amongst students who suffer from this condition. They may feel like they are doomed to failure, and therefore do not see the point in putting forth the effort or dealing with the symptoms of their anxiety. Motivation is a very personal process for most students, and educators need to recognize that there are many different ways to help a student increase their motivation to do well in the classroom setting.

For test anxiety, in particular, educators need to be able to recognize the symptoms of the condition and provide support as needed. Luckily for those who suffer from test anxiety, the majority of educators are willing to accommodate the needs of those with the condition. The study published in The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning notes that 90 percent of instructors are willing to accommodate students suffering from test anxiety. Simply making these accommodations can help a student feel more comfortable and increase their self-confidence levels. When they feel there is a realistic chance that they can succeed, they will be motivated to do what is necessary in order to adequately prepare for the exam.

By recognizing the signs and symptoms of test anxiety in students, educators can provide students with the assistance and access to resources that they need in order to thrive in the campus setting. Testing is an integral part of the post-secondary experience, so it’s critical that test anxiety does not prevent a student from being able to succeed. Individual professors and instructors should evaluate the resources that are available at their particular campus, and provide help to students who appear to be struggling as a result of test anxiety.

  Higher Education, Student Motivation & Engagement
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