Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.
What is Test Anxiety?
Nearly every teacher sees it happen. The students give you all the right answers in the discussion, perform well in the exercises, and seem to have a perfect understanding of the information you've presented. Then you give them the test, and they bomb it. You watch them mess up on answers that you know should be easy for them. They sweat, struggle, and do their best, but they just can't seem to pass that test.
Test anxiety is a crippling fear of failure in response to an internal feeling of inadequacy. It happens when the student's view of tests includes extreme feelings of worry and self-doubt. It can very uncomfortable for students and can significantly impact their exam performance. In this lesson we will explore ways to reduce that anxiety and give the students their best chance at performing well on their tests.
What Causes Test Anxiety?
There are many reasons that a student might feel that he or she is going to do badly on a test. Sometimes, parents put a great deal of pressure on the students. Other times, the students have personal issues that are interfering with their learning. With some students, the typical structure of a test is a problem. In any case, the fear builds up, causing the student to go into 'fight or flight' mode. This is great when you're facing physical danger, but not so good when you need to relax and focus. In addition, test anxiety can be made much worse by the student's physical condition. Caffeine, illness, hunger, etc. can cause students to experience negative emotions and have a hard time concentrating.
There are many negative cognitive (thought-based) and affective (emotion-based) effects related to test anxiety.
- Difficulty remembering and/or concentrating
- Anxious, negative, and rapid or distracting thoughts
- Moodiness, worrying, and poor attitude
- Irritability, short temper, and agitation
- Feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and/or depressed
In extreme cases, severe test anxiety can also cause physical symptoms. As a teacher, you may be tempted to disregard student complaints like the ones below, but they are valid physical responses to stress.
- Random aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea or dizziness
- Frequent illness
There are many possible behavioral responses to stress in a student's life including some very destructive ones.
- Bad nutritional habits (eating too much, too little, or stress-relieving snack foods)
- Putting off responsibilities or avoiding them altogether
- Using chemicals (such as cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol) to relax
- Nervous habits (such as nail biting, pacing, twitching, etc.)
- Rebellion, escape, and release activities, including partying, excitement-seeking behavior, and sexual encounters
So what can you do? You obviously can't control every aspect of your students' lives, but you certainly don't have to feel helpless. You and your fellow teachers are probably getting at least as much effective 'face time' as any other person in the students' lives. You really do have the chance to make a difference.
How do You Reduce Test Anxiety?
Each of the following can help your students reduce test anxiety.
- Take time to listen. If you understand your students, you have a better chance of helping them.
- Teach them to study. Effective study skills can go a long way toward helping the student feel that he or she is ready for the test. Offer the tools that made a difference for you.
- Help them to establish an effective pre-test routine. For example, this routine works if you're already reasonably familiar with the material:
- On the night before the test, go through everything once. Review and visualize each element that might appear on the test, using a study guide, notes, textbook highlights, etc.
- Now let it all go. Stop thinking about it. Do something to relax. Over-preparing can actually create the anxiety they're trying to avoid.
- Go to sleep early.
- On the morning of the test, have a good breakfast. The combination of effective sleep and solid nutrition produce an excellent bio-chemical environment for effective test-taking.
- Keep a confident frame of mind, take a calm walk in fresh air, and maintain the point of view that it will go well.
- Train them in relaxation techniques. Stress and physical tension tend to reinforce each other. It's a vicious cycle, so teach them to interrupt it.
- Physical tension can be relieved by stretching, exercise, or 'flex then relax' techniques.
- Psychological tension can be relieved through meditation and deliberate visualizing. We can control (to some extent) what we see in our minds, and visualizing calming images tends to create a sense of calm.
- Communicate. Make sure your students know what to expect from a test. Give them plenty of practice on items like the ones that will appear on the test, and make sure that they know that you're doing that. Make your students feel that you're on their side and that you want them to succeed.
- Watch for learning disabilities. A test is supposed to evaluate a student's level of knowledge and understanding. Sometimes, the student may need more time or a different evaluation approach to receive a fair chance on the exam.
Test anxiety is a crippling fear effect that happens when the students feel extreme worry and doubt regarding their ability to do well on a test. It is both uncomfortable and counter-productive, sometimes wreaking havoc in exam results. When the students are in this 'fight or flight' mode, they have difficulty remembering, concentrating, and maintaining a productive attitude. Test anxiety can be reduced through study techniques, communication, pre-test routines, and stress management. If you can reduce this negative emotional effect, you can go a long way toward making sure that your students have their best chance in your classroom.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack