Test Anxiety: A Major Educational Problem and What Can Be Done About It by Kennedy T. Hill and Allan Wigfield
Test anxiety is not unfamiliar to many of us, students. Being stressed, sweating, fast heart beat rates and so on… And so it is also not a surprise that psychologists have also done extensive research trying to study this wicked phenomena.
This paper by Hill and colleagues was published in September 1984 in The Elementary School Journal.
They began their research with a delve into motivation, an important factor for school achievement. As such, test anxiety is an important aspect of negative motivation and it has debilitating effects on school achievement. Test anxiety is defined as “an unpleasant feeling or emotional state that has physiological and behavioural concomitants, and that is experienced in formal testing or other evaluative situations” (Dusek, 1980, p.88). Theorists believe that test anxiety develops for some children when they are in preschool or elementary school, a time when parents begin to make unrealistic or overly high demands for their children’s scholastic performance.
Consequently, when their children fail to meet their expectations, the parents react negatively, which then make their children become fearful of evaluation in achievement situations and also overly concerned about adult reaction to their academic grades.
Anxiety is traditionally measured by student self-report questionnaires. Of which the most common one for children is the Test Anxiety Scale for Children (TASC). This test was developed by S. Sarason et al. (1960). It consists of a 30-item scale that measure anxiety about test performance. Example questions include “Do you feel nervous while you are taking a test?”, and “Do you think you worry more about school than other children?”. Although a relatively reliable questionnaire, the fact that it is a self-reported test brings much speculation over the amount of bias it may contain, as children might not want to show that they are indeed very afraid of tests, or that they may have a exaggerated estimation of just how much nervousness they feel in examinations.
Continuing on from those weaknesses, another 11-item Lie Scale for Children (LSC) was developed by S. Sarason et al., which is a defensiveness measure, in order to control for the possibility that some children are unwilling to report anxiety. Example questions include “Do you ever worry?”. From the 11-item Lie Scale for Children, Sarason demonstrated that highly defensive children report less anxiety although they perform more like high-anxious children. Interestingly, their study show that boys are more likely to be defensive, while girls are more likely to admit anxiety. But both genders measure equally on anxiety effects.
As children grow older, these gender differences towards defensive behavior may still continue. Especially between competitive peers, and also in individuals with a high amount of pride. Hiding one’s anxiety is definitely not the best way to relieve oneself of test anxiety.
The main solution educators have tried to come up with solving the problem is to change the method of evaluation. These new educational procedures are established in order to help students develop positive motivation and self-confidence when faced with evaluation. The collaborative school-university research model is a result of this effort.
Teachers and school officials tried to change the report card format, as well as implementing class programs to develop testing skills and positive motivation for testing.
An interesting point in their paper is when they discuss how standardized tests need certain reformation in order to help those children with high anxiety to better cope and perform better on tests. They found that low-income children perform better when they got some time to become familiar with the setting as well as the examiners themselves. They also performed better when the difficulty of items was perfectly aligned from easy to hard as opposed to being mixed. These are interesting points to take note of, but whether making such changes would still keep the authenticity of the standardized tests is a debatable question.