Anxiety does not cause poor results on exams | Rare Techy
Exams are stressful, especially for those who are already anxious. Silence in the hall; the ticking of the clock; the beady eye of the invigilator; The smug expression of the guy at the neighboring desk who finished 15 minutes early. So it’s no surprise that those who worry about taking tests perform worse than those who don’t. Perhaps surprisingly, according to research recently published in Psychological Science by Maria Theobald of the Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education and her colleagues, it’s not the stress in the exam hall that’s causing the problem. This is the pressure of revision.
Dr Theobald theorized that if anxiety really interferes with a student’s ability to transfer known information from brain to paper via pen, those with high levels will perform worse on the actual test, when it matters, than on a previous mock. or in online training sessions. Moreover, she expected that this performance-deterioration would be related to self-reported levels of test anxiety.
So, they worked with 309 German medical students who were preparing for the most important final state exam they would take. The test consists of 230 questions divided into three five-hour sessions over three days.
In the 100 days before the actual papers, all her volunteers used a digital learning platform that presented them with past exam questions and recorded their performance. They also conducted a mock exam 40 days before the actual one, which was clearly presented to them. To assess their level of anxiety, they were asked every day for 40 days before the actual test, and on the day of that test, to rate statements such as, “I feel tense, nervous.” On the day of the mock test, they were similarly asked to rate statements such as, “I’m worried about whether I’ve studied enough.”
What Dr. Theobald found was not what she expected. Test-day anxiety did not predict test performance at all. It predicted the level of knowledge a student demonstrated in a mock test and previous digital learning activities. Those who performed well in these did well in the real thing, no matter how anxious they were that day.
What really hindered students were the high levels of anxiety weeks before the exam. A student’s anxiety increases in the days leading up to an exam, and his or her knowledge-gain during that period decreases, leaving that student with less material to get excited about on the exam itself.
Paradoxically, this is a positive finding, as it suggests that changing the way anxious people approach revision can help improve their outcomes. Dr Theobald notes that test anxiety is at its worst when students have low expectations of success and at the same time know that passing the test is very important. To reduce this anxiety, she suggests a two-fold strategy for students to consider as they revise. First, they can boost confidence in their own abilities by reminding them how much they know. Second, they can downplay the importance of testing by reminding themselves that, although it is important, it is not a life-or-death situation. It really isn’t. really…
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From The Economist, published under license. Original content available at https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2022/11/02/anxiety-does-not-cause-bad-results-in-exams