Testing anxiety can get in the way of the learning process, no matter how prepared students are.
Overactive nerves before or during a test are natural, but feelings of stress can become seriously magnified for some students, to the point of being debilitating.
What is testing anxiety?
Testing anxiety is a psychological condition that can negatively affect learners’ performance and outcomes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it’s a type of performance anxiety that inhibits students’ ability to perform during testing despite preparedness and confidence concerning the material.
It shouldn’t be underestimated: the American Test Anxieties Association says about 16 to 20% of students have high test anxiety, with another 18% admitting to being troubled by moderately-high test anxiety; the American College Health Association found in its Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment that 21.9% of college students felt that anxiety affected their academic performance.
Symptoms of testing anxiety
The symptoms of testing anxiety can be quite severe.
Physical: Headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and feeling faint.
Emotional: Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment.
Behavioral/cognitive: Difficulties concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others.
“The proper way to deal with the problem is to make accommodations for those students where the anxiety is getting in the way,” says Jarrod Morgan, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at ProctorU, a D2L partner.
“Luckily, it’s probably the best time ever for us to be trying to tackle this problem because we have more awareness and more tools than we ever have before.”
Strategies for fighting testing anxiety
These days, technology can be an effective tool for helping students fight testing anxiety. Oftentimes, eliminating anxiety comes down to feeling comfortable in a testing situation, and there are tools that can help with that.
Here are a few specific tech-enabled strategies that can be used to help students fight testing anxiety, especially those in online or blended courses:
- In the lead-up to a final assessment or a midterm, leverage all the different kinds of assessment tools in your learning environment (like quizzes for example) to help prepare students by getting them in the right frame of mind to take the test.
- Use tools like online proctoring solutions to enable students to choose a location where they would feel most comfortable taking the test.
- When testing takes place online, provide students with a live online proctor with whom they can interact. This person can help students who might be anxious because of problems with the testing technology and the exam itself, or anything that’s preventing them from testing properly. They can also vouch for students when something goes wrong with the test, and that can greatly reduce students’ stress by reinforcing that they will be believed when circumstances beyond their control impede their ability to properly take the test.
Technology can be very useful in the battle against testing anxiety, but the key is providing students with the means to manage their stress.
Here are some stress-management strategies that teachers can use in class to help students, whether online or in-class, combat testing anxiety:
- Encourage students to consider healthy habits leading up to and the day of the exam. Maybe they thrive better after eating a heathy breakfast. A good night’s rest is always important and exercising to get the blood flowing before an exam is always advisable.
- Proactively aim to identify students who might suffer from testing anxiety and be in tune with them. Allow them more time to take the test and use technologies or other means to deter cheating so that having more time won’t allow them to cheat or to skew the results of the test. It’s about allowing students to relax and move forward through the test at a more comfortable pace.
- Make sure students are properly prepared. Let them know what to expect by clearly demonstrating how they’re going to be tested, making sure they know exactly what material they’re going to be tested on, how long the test will take and where they can go to take the test, online or offline. Making sure that students have everything they need to be prepared will help lower test anxiety.
- Providing students with practice exams, quizzes and assignments that resemble the examination, but have much lower stakes on the final grade, is a great way to get students in the habit of using a testing environment (if online) and in the right mindset for taking tests.
- Consider allowing students to demonstrate what they’ve learned and assess their competencies rather than relying on memorization.