Research shows that test anxiety affects between 25-40% of people, and the affliction has been shown to have a significant impact on test performance.
Despite thoughts by adults that students did not study enough for a test, the research says otherwise. Around 16-20% of students have been shown to have high test anxiety, while an additional 18% suffer from moderately-high test anxiety. Students who fall into this category typically “draw a blank” or “freeze up” in testing situations. On average, those with high anxiety test 12 percentile points under students with low anxiety regardless of any extra time or effort spent studying.
While adults tend to say not enough time or effort was spent studying, or it was simply a bad day, students often blame themselves, telling themselves that next time they will study harder. However, for students with high test anxiety, extra studying has actually been found to hinder their performance.
Lead researcher for New England Pediatric Psychology Dr. Robert Pressman said there are three components to test anxiety. The physiological comes in the form of light-headedness, sweating, an increased heartbeat, or headache. The behavioral aspect shows itself through “going blank” and disorganized thoughts during the test, and the psychological aspect makes the test taker feel nervous, restless or insecure.
Assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester Jeremy Jamieson has found that how people think about testing plays a larger role in their performance than do ability or preparation. People with test anxiety tend to “worry that they don’t have the skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the test,” prior to and during the test. This feeling will appear no matter how hard they have studied, how high their grades are or how smart they are.
In order to determine whether a child has test anxiety, school counselor Megan Sislowski suggests, “If your kid seems especially irritable or if your kid is not eating sleeping or even not eating or maybe overeating. Procrastination… any change in behavior that you don’t normally see,” she says.
To help a child suffering from test anxiety, a number of solutions are available. Relaxation techniques including deep breathing, visualization and positive thinking help some, while a reduction of stress at home during testing week may help others. Children should be getting enough sleep, exercise and nutrition, in addition to an understanding that mistakes do happen.