Helping Students Deal Effectively
with Test Anxiety
Darcy Barrick
[email protected]
Christelle Le Faucheur
[email protected]
Sanger Learning Center
School of Undergraduate Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
For professionals to be able to
 Speak to the history of & trends in test anxiety research
 Identify four parts of the suggested integrated approach
to test anxiety
 Suggest effective self-calming strategies to students
experiencing test anxiety
 Identify times when it would be important to refer test
anxiety students to counseling/mental health services
What is Anxiety?
Physiological / psychological response to a perceived
Physiological signs
Psychological signs
 Upset stomach
 Confusion
 Restlessness
 Memory blanking
 Sleep problems
 Irritability
 Muscle tension
 Impaired concentration
 Headache
 Poor judgment
 Back problems
 Frustration
What is Test Anxiety?
 Test anxiety is defined as perceived arousal, reported
worry, self-denigrating thoughts, tension, and reports of
somatic symptoms in exams or similar evaluative
situations. Estimated to impact as many as 20-35% of
students (Zeidner, 1998)
 Seems to be on the increase as more emphasis is placed
on test in the public school system and as tests
increasingly determine admission to specific
programs/schools. (Kadison & DiGeronimo,2004)
What Test Anxiety Is Not
 A diagnostic category on its own
(although it can be one manifestation of other
diagnoses such as anxiety disorders, depression,
attention disorders, or learning disorders that may
legally entitle a student to classroom
 An experience caused solely by insufficient preparation
(although preparation techniques are a key element in
positively impacting the anxiety experience)
 Comes from a number of fields including education,
counseling, behavioral science, and various branches of
 Overlaps with research areas such as
Learned helplessness
Self regulation
Personality traits
Origins of Test Anxiety
Biological Constitution
Socialization and Early
Childhood Experiences
Test Anxiety
Educational Environment
Unique Learning Experiences
Configuration of factors in test anxiety development, in Zeidner, 1998
Test Anxiety Research: Milestones
 Drive-oriented and physiological stress/arousal perspectives(
Mandler and S. Sarason's 1952)
 Liebert and Morris (1967) – constructs of emotionality (physiological
arousal) and worry (concern about performance)
More Milestones
 Cognitive-attentional (interference) model (Wine (1971)
worry, cognitive interference, and self-denigration
 Skills deficits (Culler & Halahan 1980; Kirkland and Hollandsworth,
 Self-regulation (Carver & Scheier, 1991)
 Self-worth (Covington, 1992)
 Spielberger’s Transactional model and State-Trait Model
(Spielberger & Vagg,1995) Anxiety as a personality trait (A-Trait)
and as a personality state (A-State)
What It Impacts
 Affect
 Worry, depression, hopelessness
 Physical symptoms
 Tension, elevated heart rate, nausea, sweating
 Behavior
 Procrastination, avoidance, ineffective study and
 Cognition
 Self-preoccupied thinking
 Impaired information processing
 Input (Encoding and Acquisition)
 Storage and Processing
 Retrieval and Output
Test Anxiety and Information Processing
Storage and
Retrieval and
Academic Outcomes
 60 years of research have demonstrated a clear
negative association between test anxiety and
academic performance.
 Students don’t perform to their potential and scores
misrepresents their level of knowledge and
 Academic persistence and achievement can be
negatively impacted.
Test anxiety is a complex,
multidimensional construct
Heterogeneous nature of test anxiety
 Develops from multiple pathways
 Yields different types of test-anxious students
 Demands an integrated approach to treatment
Damer and Melendres, 2011
Meta-analysis of 56 empirical test anxiety intervention
studies (Ergene, 2003)
 Most effective are combination of
 Skill-focused strategies
(study skills training, test-taking skills training)
 Cognitive approach
(rational emotive therapy, cognitive restructuring)
 Behavioral approach
(systematic desensitization, relaxation training,
biofeedback, anxiety inductions)
Helping Students Deal
Effectively with Test Anxiety:
An Integrated Approach
History >
Reframing >
Self-Calming >
Study Effectiveness
Additional referral options
at UT Austin
Counseling and Mental Health Center
 Private counseling appointments
 Short-term test anxiety group
 Stress management class (Optimizing Your Potential)
 Mindfulness meditation group
 On-line resources
Mind/Body Lab – guided relaxation recordings, massage
chairs, biofeedback
Student History
 Duration – origin (elementary, secondary, college, etc.)
 Intensity -- from 1-10
 Any complete blanking, how long does it last*
 Intense physical symptoms* such as fainting or vomiting?
 Stress level on non-test days*
 Impact
 Experience of life – tired, stressed, etc.
 Outcomes – grades > ability to study > motivation for school
 Other
 Anxiety in other areas of life* -- social, family, relationship,
finances, etc.
 Past diagnoses relevant to anxiety*
1. What a test is
 A thinking task
2. Primary job during a test
 To think
… as clearly as possibly based on what I currently know
 Choosing a job within your control
Get it all right / Not make any mistakes
Do better than other people
Prove something to the professor
Get into pharmacy school
Make my parents happy
Make my family proud
Get an A
3. Secondary job – to self-calm
 Some anxiety improves performance
 If stress progresses to point that you can’t
think, your responsibility shifts to your
secondary job, to self-calm.
Positively impacting the anxiety
experience is always a
combination of learning selfcalming techniques AND
improving the effectiveness of
study techniques.
Self-Calming Techniques
-- see packet
Study Effectiveness Techniques
-- see packet
Plan weekly
Preview (for content and organization)
Take in new information: Read<>Take lecture notes
Review notes (to find and fill gaps)
Take Test(s)
Analyze results
Final Resources
Instruments for Assessing Test Anxiety
------------As a result of this session, I will