Third, a study of GCSE students Putwain, in press indicated how stress is also used as an umbrella term for any negative affect associated with examinations: time pressure, the exhaustion of having to sit multiple of examinations in a single day, having to prepare for exams while still completing coursework and the interference on relationships and social activities. The test anxiety construct is too narrow to capture these features of examination stress, but at the same time, owing to its lack of specificity, this broad notion of examination stress is not always helpful.
But this fails to take into account that coursework has its own forms of stress that some students find as stressful as examinations: managing projects involving different elements e. Putwain, c.
What causes examination stress in GCSE students? Research suggests that examinations are stressful for this group of student for four reasons Denscombe, ; Putwain, in press : consequences; markers of self-esteem; judgements from others; and fear appeals by teachers. Performance Whether one adopts a test anxiety or examination stress perspective, they have both been associated with a negative impact on examination performance.
For instance, meta-analytic reviews of the relationship between test anxiety and measures of academic performance — both formal and informal, and conducted in both schools and universities — suggest an average correlation of around —. The critical point is not perhaps that the effect is a small one, but where precisely that effect is taking place.
Are highly test-anxious students getting a grade B when they should be getting a grade A, or a grade G instead of a grade F? If the drop in grade is hovering around a pass boundary and in GCSE students, the evidence suggests that it is — see Putwain, , the net effect might be a greater number of highly test-anxious students failing. Questions about the causal status of test anxiety have been raised on the basis that test anxiety may just be a proxy measure of ability and that both high anxiety and poor performance are joint effects of poor study skills.
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Research tried to address the first of these problems by including measures of ability, such as IQ, as a covariate e. One argument is to use low stakes tests, such as short class tests, as they will be less influenced by test anxiety, although a recent study showed that, bizarrely, the low stakes tests seemed influenced more by anxiety than the high stakes test Putwain, b. The alternative is to use teacher-based judgements based on factors other than test results, although ensuring the reliability and comparability of these measures would be a difficult task.
A popular theory in the s was that poor study skills would result in high test anxiety because students would anticipate failure as a direct result of their study skills. Measuring test anxiety and performance together shows a relationship, but the two variables are not causally related. Intervention research indicates that study skills training alone is not as effective at reducing anxiety. These ideas have been incorporated into cognitive-attentional interference theories of test anxiety Sarason, and more recently into processing efficiency theory and attentional control theory Eysenck et al.
Given the articulate way in which these theories account for the negative impact of anxiety, a key question for me is why the measured effect of test anxiety on examination performance is not bigger.
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There are a number of possible answers, all of which suggest the effect would be much higher but for their positive mediating effect. The basic idea is that it is not anxiety per se that is responsible for a negative impact on performance, but how a student copes with or responds to that anxiety.
One such factor that has received some attention in the maintenance of clinical anxiety is the tendency to catastrophise Weems et al. In the context of test anxiety, this could manifest such that if one question cannot be answered, the person believes they will fail the whole exam and their whole life will become a failure. Second, students are prepared extremely thoroughly for examinations in English schools through planned compulsory revision in lessons, optional revision at lunch time and after school, in the Easter holidays, repeated examination practice using past papers Putwain, c.
The processing efficiency model would predict such practices should reduce the effects of anxiety on cognitive resources through rehearsal and increasing familiarity. Third, there are different types of highly test-anxious students Zeidner, , presents a typology of six categories who vary in their susceptibility to the negative influence of test anxiety.
Including them all in a single analysis may hide the fact that for some students there is a much stronger effect than for others.
The Causes of Test Anxiety and Academic Stress
A similar line of reasoning is advanced by Mathews et al. Future directions One of ways in which test anxiety research is moving forward is by examining how it might be related to other, similar constructs, including achievement goals and academic self-concept. A performance-avoidance goal, characterised by a fear of failure, is the most likely point of convergence between the achievement goals and test anxiety constructs.
Initial research by Elliott and McGregor supports this proposition. Their integrated hierarchical model suggests students high on trait anxiety may hold performance-approach or performance-avoidance goals, but it is only the test anxious students holding the avoidance goal that are showing a negative relationship to performance via state worry.
This distinction is consistent with the suggestion above that there may be different types of test-anxious students, only some of whom show a negative relationship with performance. This finding has not been replicated by all research, however, suggesting that some degree of theoretical refinement is necessary. For instance, Putwain and Deveney tested an expanded hierarchical model containing a range of test-related emotions.
We found that a performance-avoidance goal was more strongly related to anger, shame and hopelessness than to anxiety. Research has supported this prediction, finding that both academic self-concept and perceived test competence are both negatively related to test anxiety Putwain et al. This study also examined achievement goals, finding that mastery-avoidance rather than performance-avoidance goals were most strongly related to test anxiety, again suggesting that this relationship should be re-examined.
Conclusion Given the current climate in the UK of increasing the amount of high stakes testing in children, debates around the issue of test anxiety and examination stress are unlikely to go away for the foreseeable future. Is a lot of testing bad for children? Does the focus on testing encourage shallow learning and performance goals at the expense of deep learning and mastery goals?
Do individualised accounts of stress focus attention away from the surveillance function of examinations? Although many educational commentators are ready to offer opinions on these and other related questions, evidence at present is very scarce indeed, and there is a real opportunity now to inform future policy making with both research evidence and critical commentary.
Implications 1. Early identification of highly test-anxious students is difficult, as test-anxious responses may not manifest until high stakes examinations such as GCSEs. Practitioners should look out for signs such as procrastination and loss of interest in academic work. How should highly test-anxious students be supported? Changing the examination conditions to make them less stressful perhaps extra time, breaks or a smaller venue than a hall or helping the student to cope more effectively, or become more resilient, with examinations?
There are obvious tensions here between notions of inclusivity, equality of opportunity and fairness. Should anxiety be the main focus of intervention or support? Might the student be better served by targeting the factors that lead to a high test-anxious response in the first place: improving study and test-taking skills, improving academic self-concept perhaps through addressing attributions for success or failure or more individual subject-specific tuition.
This kind of approach requires a recognition that a student might be become test-anxious for a variety of reasons. Denscombe, M. Social conditions for stress. British Educational Research Journal, 26 3 , — Elliot, A. Test anxiety and the hierarchical model of approach and avoidance achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76 4 , — McGregor, H. A 2 x 2 achievement goal framework.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80 3 , — Ergene, T. Effective interventions on test anxiety reduction: A meta analysis.
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School Psychology International, 24 3 , — Eysenck, M. Calvo, M. Anxiety and cognitive performance: Attentional control theory. Emotion, 7 2 ,. Gregor, A. Examination anxiety. School Psychology Int. Flaxman, P. Preventing and treating evaluation strain. Dryden Eds. To help curb your perfectionism, try this: Set a time limit and then go through a set of lecture notes with the goal of pulling out only the most important concepts and facts. Knowing that you can return will make it emotionally easier to leave minor details behind for now. Before the Exam:. Harrison, Chicago, IL Managing Test Anxiety If you have test anxiety, you may experience physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms, a racing heart, etc.
Possible Causes of Test Anxiety: Think about the nature of your fears and come up with an answer to the fear -- either a change in behavior or a change in thinking reframing the situation. Realistic Fears: I'm not ready for this test. Answer: Work on your time management and perhaps your perfectionism. If I fail this exam, I might have to repeat the year. Answer: Talk to your advisor, dean, or counselor and try to be as realistic as you can about your options.
Managing Test Anxiety
In most cases, second chances are built into the system. Unfounded Fears: My family, classmates, and professors will think that I'm not very bright. Answer: At this level of education, everybody is smart, and intelligence is not the primary factor separating top performers from lower ones. After you graduate you will be judged on your work performance, so you will have plenty of opportunities to distinguish yourself.
I used to think I was smart, but now I'm no longer sure. Answer: Almost all students experience this kind of doubt. It's perfectly normal. Before the Exam: Put things in perspective. Remind yourself that your upcoming exam is important, but your entire future doesn't depend on this exam. For example, many successful medical professionals have a few academic struggles in their past. Also, it might be helpful to tell yourself that regardless of your performance on the test you will not be diagnosed with a terminal illness at the end of it.
Remind yourself of past successes. Intellectually, you understand that you're competing against many other bright students, but you may need to remind yourself of that. Don't give a test the power to define you. An exam won't tell you whether you're the most brilliant or least brilliant student in your class.
Your performance on an exam mostly depends on how effectively you studied for the test, the quality of your prior education, and the test-taking strategies you use. In most cases, second chances are built into the system. Unfounded Fears: My family, classmates, and professors will think that I'm not very bright.
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