ERIC Identifier: ED479355
Publication Date: 2003-09-00
Author: Harris, Henry L.; Coy, Doris R
Source: ERIC Counseling and Student Services Clearinghouse
Helping Students Cope with Test Anxiety. ERIC Digest.
Anxiety is a basic human emotion consisting of fear and uncertainty
appears when an individual perceives an event as being a threat to
the ego or
self-esteem (Sarason, 1988). In some instances, such as avoiding dangerous
situations, anxiety can be helpful. However when taken to extremes,
it may produce
unwarranted results. One of the most threatening events that causes
anxiety in students today is testing. When students develop an extreme
fear of performing poorly on an examination, they experience test anxiety.
Test anxiety is a major factor contributing to a variety of negative outcomes
including psychological distress, academic underachievement, academic failure,
and insecurity (Hembree, 1988). Many students have the cognitive ability
to do well on exams but may not do so because of high levels of test anxiety.
Because of the societal emphasis placed on testing, this could potentially
limit their educational and vocational opportunities (Zeidner, 1990).
CHARACTERISTICS OF TEST ANXIETY
Test anxiety is composed of three major components: cognitive, affective,
behavioral. Students who experience test anxiety from the cognitive
worriers lacking self confidence. They may be preoccupied with negative
doubting their academic ability and intellectual competence (Sarason
& Sarason, 1990).
Furthermore, they are more likely to overemphasize the potential negative
results and feel helpless when in testing situations (Zeidner, 1998). Some
students may feel the
need to answer every question on the test correctly. When this does
not occur they may think of themselves as being incompetent, thus fueling
negative thoughts such as, "I knew I was not going to pass this test,"
"I know I am going to make a poor grade," or "Everyone knows I am not smart."
In order for students to have the best opportunity for academic success,
negative thinking must be minimized and controlled.
From the affective perspective, test anxiety causes some students to
physiological reactions such as increased heart rate, feeling nauseated,
urination, increased perspiration, cold hands, dry mouth, and muscle
spasms (Zeidner, 1998). These reactions may be present before, during,
and even after the test is completed. In conjunction with the physiological
reactions, emotions such as worry, fear of failure, and panic may be present.
When students are not able to control their emotions, they may experience
higher levels of stress, thereby making it more difficult for them to concentrate.
Test-anxious students express anxiety behaviorally by procrastinating
inefficient study and test-taking skills. Zeidner (1998) contends that
students have a more difficult time interpreting information and organizing
it into larger patterns of meaning. In addition, some students may physically
feel tired or exhausted during test administration because they do not
have a healthy diet, have poor sleeping habits, and fail to routinely exercise.
SUGGESTIONS TO HELP STUDENTS OVERCOME TEST ANXIETY
There are a number of suggestions that school administrators, teachers,
counselors, and parents may utilize to help students effectively manage
* attempt to build a strong alliance with parents, students and teachers
by explaining to them the importance of testing including potential advantages
* encourage teachers to teach the curriculum rather than teaching to
the test because
ideally the test should reflect the curriculum being taught.
* develop school policies on standardized tests that are clear and easily
* consider giving students school-wide practice tests.
* encourage school counselors to address test anxiety with students
small groups, and during classroom guidance lessons.
* become aware of students' developmental levels and the pressure they
placing on students prior to test administration.
* teach students successful test-taking strategies that include understanding
limits, the importance of pacing, and the different type of test formats
choice, essay, fill in the blank).
* consider designing some classroom tests using the standardized test
the school year.
* help students understand test ceilings and provide information on
whether or not they will be penalized for incorrect responses. If points
are deducted for incorrect responses students should be informed to leave
items blank (Sycamore & Corey, 1990).
* address test anxiety in class by exploring students' concerns and,
if necessary, meet with the school counselor and parents of identified
students to confront this issue.
School counselors should:
* collaborate with school officials to identify students experiencing
* conduct classroom guidance topics on test anxiety, test-taking strategies,
and effective study skills, and consult with teachers.
* practice different forms of relaxation techniques with students and
provide them with the cognitive tools to defeat the negative self-talk
they may experience before, during, and after the test.
* offer workshops to parents focusing on ways they may help their children
reduce test anxiety.
* meet with students experiencing test anxiety individually or in small
groups to address this issue in more detail.
* seek out students who have successfully defeated test anxiety and
have them speak or partner with other students to share their experience
* be aware of the developmental levels of students and recognize when
test anxiety is out of control, because more serious anxiety-related problems
could be present
* make sure their children attend school regularly.
* create and maintain a home environment that will help their children
be well rested
during regular school days and during the week of testing.
* evaluate their children's academic progress over a period of time
rather than on one single test score.
* talk with their children and encourage them to do their best.
* be proactive, contact school officials if they have questions concerning
(U.S. Department of Education, 1993).
* encourage their children to maintain a healthy diet and exercise on
a regular basis.
Students are encouraged to:
* consistently develop good sleeping habits, especially during the week
of the test, and maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
* avoid cramming, develop good study habits and good test taking skills.
* wear comfortable clothes during the exam and maintain a comfortable
body posture during the test.
* be aware of time allotted for the test, read directions carefully,
and for time
management purposes leave questions blank that they are not sure of
and attempt to
answer them later.
* not compare themselves to other students while taking the test.
* take deep breaths and attempt to regain composure when anxiety levels
are high or when negative thoughts are present.
Test anxiety is something that impacts students from all ethnic backgrounds
and grade levels. Helping students learn to effectively manage such anxiety
is a challenging task that requires a genuine team effort. Students, parents,
teachers, school counselors, and school administrators must all find ways
to be actively involved in reducing test anxiety. We live in a test-taking
society and when students are anxious during tests, they are less likely
to perform up to their academic potential.
Hembree, R. (1988). Correlates, causes, effects, and treatment of test
anxiety. Review of Educational Research, 58, 7-77.
Sarason, I. G. (1988). Anxiety, self-preoccupation, and attention. Anxiety
Research, 1, 3-7.
Sarason, I. G., & Sarason, B. R. (1990). Test anxiety. In H. Leitenberg
(Eds), Handbook of social and evaluative anxiety (pp 475-496). New York:
Syncamore, J. E., & Corey, A. L. (1990). Reducing test anxiety.
Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 24, 231-233.
U. S. Department of Education (1993). Help Your Child Improve in Test-Taking.
Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.
Wilkinson, C. M. (1990). Techniques for overcoming test anxiety. Elementary
School Guidance & Counseling, 24, 234-237.
Zeidner, M. (1990). Does test anxiety bias scholastic aptitude test
gender and sociocultural group? Journal of Personality Assessment,
Zeidner, M. (1998). Test anxiety: The state of the art. New York: Plenum