Test Anxiety: Causes and Remedies

There hasn’t been a lot written recently about test anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an issue for a significant number of students. Those of us who don’t suffer from test anxiety—and I’m betting that’s most faculty—can find it hard to be sympathetic. Life is full of tests, and students need to get over it. Besides, if students have studied and prepared, there’s no reason for them to feel excessively anxious about a test.
Perhaps we should start by reestablishing that test anxiety is a legitimate problem. A significant amount of research says that it can affect students in kindergarten right on up through college and graduate school. Here’s one study (with lots of references, including several meta-analyses) that investigated the relationship between test anxiety and academic performance in 4,000 undergraduate students and 1,414 graduate students: “Low-test-anxious female and male undergraduates had cumulative GPAs averaging 3.35 and 3.22, respectively, whereas high-test-anxious female and male undergraduates had cumulative GPAs averaging 3.12 and 2.97, respectively” (Chapell et al. 2005, 271). That’s essentially the difference between a B+ and a B. In this study, the relationship between test anxiety and performance was weaker for graduate students.
Granted the study is more than 10 years old, but I’m not sure that makes a big difference. College students continue to take a lot of tests, and the importance of grades, coupled with the pressure to get …