Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Multicomponent Treatment of a Test Anxious College Student

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Multicomponent Treatment of a Test Anxious College Student

Article excerpt


A multicomponent treatment approach consisting of relaxation training, systematic desensitization, and cognitive-behavioral interventions was utilized to treat test anxiety in a college student female. Data collected and used throughout treatment were self-reported feelings of relaxation and anxiety during the intervention procedure. Pre and post measures of grade point average (GPA) and trait anxiety were taken. Multiple measures of treatment effectiveness indicated successful results. Trait anxiety level decreased significantly, and academic performance, as measured by GPA, increased substantially. Additionally, the clients reported satisfaction with the results indicated further evidence of treatment effectiveness. Results are discussed in terms of individual findings for the client and implications for psychologists who subscribe to a scientist-practitioner mode of treatment.

Poor academic performance has been consistently associated with test anxiety in college students. Reasons for this deficit in performance are hypothesized to be a failure of the test anxious student to pay attention to important stimuli on tests (Meichenbaum, 1972; Sarason, 1980), intrusion of distressing or distracting thoughts (Anderson & Sauser, 1995; Meichenbaum, 1972; Sarason, 1980), and physiological arousal that interferes with performance (Holroyd & Appel, 1980; Spielberger & Vagg, 1995). Although test anxiety is difficult to define operationally due to its many components, it is generally thought to be a form of general anxiety (Sarason, 1980), where subjective interpretations of the situation lead to worry behavior and emotionality (Dendato & Diener, 1986; Sarason, 1980; Spielberger & Vagg, 1995).

Various treatment methods have been used successfully to treat test anxiety in adult students, including relaxation training (Dendato & Diener, 1986; Russell, Miller, & June, 1975), anxiety management training (Meichenbaum, 1972), and cognitive behavioral interventions (Algaze, 1995; Gonzalez, 1995). However, systematic desensitization alone, or in combination with other behavioral techniques, has been used more often than other approaches in the treatment of test anxiety (Russell, Miller, & June, 1975). Most studies incorporating systematic desensitization with test anxious students have found it successful in reducing anxiety (Algaze, 1995; Gonzalez, 1995; Lent & Russell, 1978; Spielberger & Vagg, 1995) and increasing grade point average (Gonzalez, 1995; Meichenbaum, 1972).

While studies have documented the effectiveness of combined behavioral techniques for treating test anxiety, there is little focus on an individualized approach to treatment. Studies comparing the efficacy of different approaches tend to use standardized or group-generated systematic desensitization hierarchy scripts (Dendato & Diener, 1986; Lent & Russell, 1978) rather than emphasize specific areas of concern for individuals with test anxiety. The focus of this article is on a multicomponent, individualized approach to the treatment of test anxiety in a college student. The prescriptive approach utilized in this case study emphasizes thorough assessment of test anxiety and subsequent therapy designed to reduce self-reported anxiety.


Participant and Problem

The participant was a 19-year-old, single, Caucasian female, attending her freshman year of college. She was referred by the University Student Disability Office to a university-based psychological center for assessment of a possible learning disability. She described long standing difficulties with academic subjects, reported receiving low grades in many of her classes, and indicated that she was able to recall information accurately while at home or with tutors, but not when taking tests. She reported experiencing a significant amount of anxiety surrounding test taking, as indicated by reports of heightened physiological arousal, negative self-statements about test-taking abilities, and overt behavioral indicators of distress. …

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