Addressing Test Anxiety

By Salend, Spencer J. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 2011 | Go to article overview

Addressing Test Anxiety


Salend, Spencer J., Teaching Exceptional Children


Tm OK until I get in me room. Everyone is talking about the test and what they studied and what they think will be on the test It makes me so nervous, and I start to freak out."

"Tm working on the test and then when I encounter sornething Tm not sure of, I start to panic My chest gets tight, my stomach starts (hunting, and I get sweaty, and feel overwhelmed I don't care about the test or how I do on it I hist want to get it over with and get out of there."

"I start to think about what will happen if I don't do well. on the test and then things snowball and I lose my focus. Even if I know the answer, I start to blank out and struggle to find the right words to explain it or start to think about other things. As soon as I leave the room, I remember everything and can answer the questions,"

Students take many tests throughout their school years. The results are used to make important decisions about students and educational programs, including determining levels of curriculum mastery, report card grades, gradelevel promotions, honors, and graduation (Carter et al., 2005). Educators also use testing data to monitor students' learning progress and to assess the effectiveness of their instruction and identify ways to improve it (Salend, 2009).

Many students, however, experience test anxiety. Students with test anxiety experience high levels of stress, nervousness, and apprehension during testing and evaluative situations that significantly interfere with their performance, emotional and behavioral wellbeing, and attitudes toward school (Cizek & Burg, 2006; Huberty, 2009). An estimate is that between 25% and 40% of students experience test anxiety (Cassady, 2010; Huberty, 2009). Furthermore, students with disabilities appear to be particularly vulnerable to test anxiety and have higher prevalence rates (see box, "What Does the Literature Say About Test Anxiety and Students With Disabilities?").

Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds also tend to have high levels of test anxiety. Due to stereotype threat- the social and psychological pressure and beliefs that members of certain groups may feel when they are asked to perform a task (like taking a test)- they may feel that their failure may strengthen negative stereotypes about the group or themselves (Cheryan & Bodenhausen, 2000; Osborne, Tillman, & Holland, 2010).

Although test anxiety and anxiety disorders share some eharact eristics, and students with test anxiety often have anxiety disorders, these conditions are different (Huberty, 2009). People with anxiety disorders have trait anxiety, which means that their high levels of stress appear to be ongoing personal characteristics that are evident across settings and situations (Cassady, 2010; Cizek & Burg, 2006). People with test anxiety, however, seem to have state anxiety, which means that their high levels of stress are situation specific (e.g., extreme and unwarranted tension during testing or evaluative activities; Cassady, 2010; Cizek & Burg, 2006).

This article offers strategies and guidelines that teachers can use to help students with disabilities overcome high levels of anxiety that interfere with their performance on tests. You should individually determine, based on your students' characteristics and learning strengths and challenges, what strategies to select (Elliott et al., 2010; Huberty, 2009). In addition, make sure that the strategies you use facilitate student access and performance, minimize anxiety, and provide an accurate measure of students' skills and content knowledge and do not undermine the validity of the test results (Roach, Beddow, Kurz, Kéttler, & Elliott, 2010).

Helping Students Overcome Test Anxiety

Identify Students With Test Anxiety

Most people feel some level of stress when preparing for and taking tests, and moderate and appropriate levels of nervousness can foster students' motivation, memory and attention, and enhance test performance (Cizek & Burg, 2006).

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