A Serious Problem
Test anxieties rise sharply in grades 2–4, and remain high during middle school and high school. Test anxiety presents a serious academic impairment on all grade levels, from elementary school through higher education. Teenagers tend to rate “schoolwork” and “exams” as the major source of worry and stress in their lives.
Although estimates vary, about 20% of students appear to have truly “high” or “severe” anxiety while another 16% of students might be considered to have “moderately high” test anxiety. An estimated 10 million children are affected in North America alone. And test anxieties appear to be increasing in step with the increased national emphasis on standardized testing.
So about a fifth of our students are more afraid of school tests than they ever were of spooks or ghosts or goblins or anything else that creeps or leaps or flaps around in the dark of the night.
Is It Normal?
Test anxieties can contribute to poor morale and the avoidance of schoolwork.
High anxiety reduces not just test performance but also the ability to understand instructions and to benefit from schooling. Left untreated, performance anxieties continue into adulthood where they restrict career choices and lower quality of life.
Most test anxious students feel that high anxiety is simply normal, and do not realize that it can and should be treated. These students are often anxious about being so anxious, and feel ashamed of themselves and inadequate about their inadequacies. So test anxious students seldom call attention to themselves, and bravely soldier on through their fears. Ouch!
So strangely, the most prevalent scholastic impairment in our schools today remains largely unidentified and seldom treated. Sadly, high test anxiety is so commonplace that it is even considered normal.
Anxiety is the Principal Program
Any of us who go into a test poorly prepared might find ourselves quite anxious about it. Yet we recover quickly, and resolve to be better prepared next time.
Students with persistent test anxiety can be thoroughly prepared, and still be highly anxious. Indeed, many highly anxious students prepare extensively for their exams, and yet perform poorly.
“Kristin would show her small circle of friends how to work the algebra problems at lunch, and then fail the test herself an hour later while her friends went on to pass it.”
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Test?
Note: Sections are adapted from “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Test,” by Richard Driscoll, in Our Children: the National PTA Magazine. 29, 6, April/May, 2004, p.7.
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