An Intervention for Helping Elementary Students Reduce Test Anxiety

By Cheek, James R.; Bradley, Loretta J. et al. | Professional School Counseling, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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An Intervention for Helping Elementary Students Reduce Test Anxiety

Cheek, James R., Bradley, Loretta J., Reynolds, JoLynne, Coy, Doris, Professional School Counseling


It is an underlying assumption in schools that examinations will be given. In fact, within the broad field of education, the use of standardized testing has become ubiquitous (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2000). As salient as examinations are in the life of students, test anxiety among elementary students seems to have been ignored. Yet, demands on students to do well on tests are a reality. As demands and pressures are placed on students to achieve higher test scores, the need for school counselors to implement interventions to help reduce anxiety increases. The purpose of this article is to describe an intervention designed to reduce elementary students' test anxiety.

Researchers in the field such as Hancock (2001), Hedl (1972), Sarason (1980), Spielberger and Vagg (1995), and Trent and Maxwell (1980) have characterized test anxiety as a relatively stable personality trait in which threatening situations generate debilitating psychological, physiological, and behavioral responses. Not only can test anxiety cause children to rush through testing in order to escape the unpleasant physical experiences (Rubenzer, 1988), but also it may actually create an "invisible disability" of achievement stress that can extend throughout a student's academic career (Hill & Wigfield, 1984). The "flight or fight" response experienced as a part of test anxiety can lead to major changes in attitude and effort that include withdrawal, outbursts, overactive behaviors, fatigue, avoidance of school, and other depressive symptoms (Rubenzer, 1988).



Previous research (Gonzales, 1995; Kennedy & Doepke, 1999; Proeger & Myrick, 1980) provides data to support the effectiveness of relaxation training for secondary and college-age students. These relaxation techniques have rarely been implemented in an elementary group setting (Strumpf & Fodor, 1993).

There is evidence to suggest that incorporating art and music techniques with stress-reducing strategies provides additional support and an element of fun (Hobson, 1996; Thomas, 1987). Developmentally, art is a natural extension for elementary students, and the research of Thomas (1987) indicated that adolescents often use music as one of their main stress-management strategies. Further, Russell (1992) found that familiar-sedative music paired with imagery proved to be the most successful strategy for reducing state anxiety among college students.

The strategies presented in this article were implemented in both group and classroom guidance settings. Stress-management techniques combined with music, art, and movement made the sessions fun and exciting for the students.

The Setting

The setting for this intervention was an elementary school consisting of grades kindergarten through fifth grade. As preparation for statewide testing in early spring, students are administered benchmark tests three times during the fall and winter. Following the benchmark testing, some teachers reported that several of their students were demonstrating signs of anxiety such as avoidance, crying, illness, and outbursts of anger. Thus, as part of the school's remediation and support for the students, the school counselor devised an intervention designed to address the increasing anxiety and decreasing test scores of the students.


Following the benchmark tests in October, the school counselor identified 16 students who had not met the 70% passing rate or who had exhibited or reported extreme feelings of anxiety and stress (six in third grade, five in fourth grade, and five in fifth grade). Fifty percent of these students had failed the Reading portion of the test while 67% of the students failed the Mathematics section. Some students were also recommended for intervention strategies due to high anxiety reactions. When informally interviewed by the school counselor, all 16 students reported feelings of frustration and anxiety with regard to the testing, even to the point of physical illness and vomiting.

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