Test anxiety is a common problem, affecting many students to the point that their grades suffer in spite of their performance in everyday class situations and on non-test academic activities. Many students become so overwhelmed by test anxiety that they perform poorly on tests no matter how much they study, and learning to cope with test anxiety is essential for optimum academic performance.

Test anxiety is an emotional reaction to the pressure of taking a test. It isn’t an irrational reason to become anxious; grades can have a serious impact on other aspects of a student’s life, including their future career and academic opportunities. Some level of anxiety can have a positive effect on performance as it drives the student to compete and study. Problems arise, however, when this anxiety is so severe that it disrupts a student’s ability to function or interferes with their ability to perform at their level of actual intelligence.

A new study took a look at predictors of test anxiety. While test anxiety may be common, not everyone encounters debilitating test anxiety, and learning what factors contribute to test anxiety will help educators target those students who need help to overcome their anxiety. This specific study, performed by the Ottowa Public School System in Kansas, compared levels of test anxiety across six different aspects of test anxiety in students both with and without learning disorders.

Seven hundred and seventy-four students were assessed across the six aspects of test anxiety using the Test Anxiety Inventory for Children and Adolescents. One hundred ninety-five of the students had been previously diagnosed with some type of learning disorder. The six aspects of test anxiety are Cognitive Obstruction/Inattention, Worry, Lie, Performance Enhancement/Facilitation Anxiety, Physiological Hyperarousal, and Social Humiliation.

Results showed that students with learning disorders scored higher on Cognitive Obstruction/Inattention and Worry, but they scored lower than non-learning disordered students on Performance Enhancement/Facilitation Anxiety and Lie. These results point to a learning disorder as a possible risk factor for test anxiety. They also point to a need for teaching test anxiety coping strategies to students with learning disorders.

For anyone dealing with test anxiety, there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce this anxiety. Learning better time management skills, developing better test preparation habits, organizing test preparation materials so that studying can be broken down into more manageable tasks, avoiding the overload of cramming the night before, and considering more positive motivating factors (such as completion) are helpful ways to reduce feelings of test anxiety.

Educators can also take steps to reduce test anxiety. It is important that teachers understand how much of an effect test anxiety can have on performance and create testing environments that support their students’ ability to take tests.

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