Academic journal article Education

Moderating Anxiety

Academic journal article Education

Moderating Anxiety

Article excerpt

Twelve years ago I discovered quite by accident that students taking the same test averaged significantly different scores depending on whether the time limit was mentioned in the directions. In the following year, I purposely left the statement about a 40 minute limit on the Missouri College English test out for one group as I had by accident the previous year. Both groups had a 40 minute limit, but only one group was told. 62% of the group that didn't hear about the limit scored in the upper half in the test results. Only 22% of the lower half results were from this group. All but a handful of students completed the test on time. It seems clear that students take time limit directions as cause for anxiety, and that added to the anxiety of taking a test to determine whether you need "bonehead" English is anxiety-producing enough. The test directions produced an overload.

Initially this result made me distrustful of other tests with time limits. But gradually I became interested in the anxiety phenomenon. I remembered learning that too little or too much anxiety is dysfunctional, and that a moderate amount of anxiety enhanced performance. I sensed this in my own teaching, my folk-singing career, and my recollections of athletic performance. It led me to think of other ways of moderating anxiety.

I believe in raising the anxiety level on the first day of class, then softening it the next. This shakes loose students with insufficiently serious reasons for taking a course. The best way I've found to do this is to list on the board or by going through a syllabus all the work of the course. …

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