Anxiety and Coping in the Context of a School Examination

Article excerpt

Cognitive appraisal and state anxiety of 137 high school students were examined immediately before school examination, immediately after the examination and immediately after the announcement of grades (one week later). Situational coping responses were assessed immediately after the examination. Social evaluation trait anxiety was measured two weeks before the examination in an unstressful (neutral) situation. The results show that the social evaluation trait anxiety predicts state anxiety both before and after the school examination and, in addition to this, an important role is played by the perception of threat and uncontrollability in this situation. The use of specific strategies of coping was also determined by both the personality and the perception of the examination situation, wherein the different strategies were determined by different sets of variables. Success in the examination was best predicted by the social evaluation trait anxiety, by problem focused coping and by coping through imagination-rumination (negative relation). In general, the results of the present study provide additional support for the interactional model of stress and anxiety.

Key words: trait anxiety, state anxiety, coping strategies, school examination.

In its early stages, the measurement of anxiety in test situations assumed the unidimensional nature of test anxiety, similar to the measurement of anxiety in general. Endler and Parker ( 1 990b) emphasize that a fundamental distinction needs to be made between state anxiety, which is a transitory and emotional condition, and trait anxiety, which is a stable personality characteristic regarding the potential for manifesting state anxiety. This distinction involved a consideration of both person factors and situation factors in predicting changes in state anxiety (Endler & Parker, 1990b). Endler 's interaction model of anxiety emphasises the usefulness of distinguishing between state and trait anxiety, along with treating them both as multidimensional constructs. The model proposes two components of state anxiety, cognitive-worry and autonomic-emotional. While these components are correlated, they are distinguishable both conceptually and empirically, and may relate to different antecedents and consequences (Endler, Edwards, Vitelli & Parker, 1989). The dimensions of trait anxiety included in the interaction model of anxiety are (a) social evaluation, (b) physical danger, (c) ambiguous and (d) daily routines. The differential hypothesis of this model suggests that state anxiety is a function of an interaction between a specific dimension of trait anxiety and a congruent threatening situation (Endler & Parker, 1990a). The interaction model of anxiety therefore acknowledges that people experience different levels of A-State in different situations by employing a situationally multidimensional conception of A-Trait.

In spite of the generally accepted distinction of trait-state anxiety, the majority of research within the field of test anxiety considers test anxiety only as a state, largely ignoring the trait anxiety construct. The application of scales of anxiety developed in accordance with the interaction model of anxiety, containing the measure of anxiety state and the measures of dimensions of trait anxiety might represent an improvement in measuring test anxiety. In other words, by using these scales, test anxiety could be described and quantified as both a state and a trait.

Endler and Parker (1990a) have pointed out that anxiety cannot be studied in a vacuum but must be assessed within the framework of a process which involves variables such as anxiety, stress and coping. For this reason, the interaction model of anxiety has recently been extended to incorporate both stress and coping. The model suggests four stages. During the first stage, individual variables (for example, trait anxiety, vulnerability, cognitive style, heredity, etc.) in interaction with stress situations (for example life experiences, crises, misfortunes, traumas, etc. …