Test Anxiety

Test anxiety – or evaluation anxiety – is a situation-specific form of anxiety that is commonly experienced by learners within testing situations. Contemporary conceptualizations acknowledge that test anxiety is a multidimensional construct consisting of physiological, cognitive, and social components (Morris, Davis, & Hutchings, 1981; Morris & Liebert, 1967; Lowe et al., 2007).

Emotionality – or affective test anxiety – refers to the physiological responses experienced by test anxious learners that interfere with the processing and retrieval of information during evaluative situations (Lowe et al., 2007; Spielberger & Vagg, 1995). Examples of common physiological responses to evaluative situations experienced by test anxious learners include: (1)  dizziness, (2) nausea, (3) increased cortisol production, (4) nervousness, and (5) elevated heart rate within testing events (Daly, Chamberlain, & Spalding, 2011; Hembree, 1988). Worry – or cognitive test anxiety – refers to the multitude of cognitive manifestations of test anxiety with the potential to interfere with learning and planning  operations (see Cassady, 2010).  Examples of common cognitive responses experienced by test anxious learners

Worry – or cognitive test anxiety – refers to the multitude of cognitive manifestations of test anxiety with the potential to interfere with learning and planning  operations (see Cassady, 2010).  Examples of common cognitive responses experienced by test anxious learners include: (1) self-deprecating thoughts, (2) impaired study behaviors, (3) impaired organizational skills, and (3) excessive concern regarding the consequences of poor performance (e.g., Sarason, 1986; Naveh-Benjamin, 1991).

Social derogation – or social humiliation – refers to social concerns that interfere with learners’ ability to organize his/her thoughts and successfully attend to evaluative tasks (Lowe et al., 2007).  For instance, research has suggested – and demonstrated – that test anxious learners often experience task-irrelevant thoughts focusing on the perceived potential negative reactions from important others (e.g., parents, peers, teachers) that would follow poor performance during a testing event (Lowe et al., 2007).

Recent investigations into the prevalence of test anxiety within traditional academic settings have estimated that approximately 10% to 40% of students experience some form of test anxiety. Perhaps most concerning is the evidence suggesting a higher prevalence of test anxiety among certain social groups – including racial minorities and females (Carter, Williams, & Silverman; 2008; Ergene, 2003; McDonald, 2001; Putwain, 2007). Given the high prevalence of test anxiety within educational contexts, it is vital that test anxious students are identified and directed to resources that can help them overcome barriers to optimal performance imposed by the physiological, cognitive, and social dimentsions of test anxiety.

References 

Carter, R., Williams, S., & Silverman, W. K. (2008). Cognitive and emotional facets of test anxiety in African-American school children. Cognition and Emotion, 22, 539-551.

Cassady, J. C. (Ed.). (2010). Anxiety in the schools: The causes, consequences, and solutions for academic anxieties. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Ergene, T. (2003). Effective interventions on test anxiety reducation: Meta-analysis. School Psychology International, 24, 313-328.

McDonald, A. S. (2001). The prevalence and effects of test anxiety in school children. Educational Psychology, 21, 89-101.

Lowe, P. A., Lee, S. W., Witteborg, K. M., Prichard, K. W., Luhr, M. E., Cullinan, C. M., et al. (2007). The Test Anxiety Inventory for Children and Adolescents (TAICA): Examination of the Psychometric Properties of a New Multidimensional Measure of Test Anxiety Among Elementary and Secondary School Students. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 26(3), 215–230. http://doi.org/10.1177/0734282907303760

Morris, L. W., Davis, M. A., & Hutchings, C. H. (1981). Cognitive and emotional components of anxiety: literature review and a revised worry-emotionality scale. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73, 541- 555.

Naveh-Benjamin, M. (1991). A comparison of training programs intended for different types of test-anxious students: Further support for an information-processing model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 134–139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ 0022-0663.83.1.134.

Putman, S. M. (2010). The debilitative effects of anxiety on reading affect. In J. C. Cassady (Ed.), Anxiety in schools: The causes, consequences, and solutions for academic anxieties (pp. 59-79). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Putwain, D. W. (2007). Test anxiety in UK schoolchildren: Prevalence and demographic patterns. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(3), 579–593. http://doi.org/10.1348/000709906X161704

Sarason, I. G. (1986). Test anxiety, worry, and cognitive interference. In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Self-related cognitions in anxiety and motivation (pp. 19–34). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Spielberger, C. D., & Vagg, P. R. (1995). Test anxiety: A transactional process model. In C. D. Spielberger & P. R. Vagg (Eds.), Test anxiety: Theory, assessment, and treatment (pp. 3-14). Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.