Staff Writer, Chris Bennett
The stressful test. We’ve all been there. The teacher said there was going to be a test. A big test. That counts for 5% of the class grade. So you studied everyday, reviewed your notes, practiced problems. You’re ready. As you sit at your desk those tense few moments before the test begins, you feel like you’re in the zone. You know everything, nothing can stop you. The test starts, you look at the paper, and the panic begins. Sweat beads form as you think about the importance of the test and the possibility of failure. You obsess over the problems you can’t solve, second-guess yourself, forget some of what you’ve learned. The stress continues to amount as you check your answers. Are they right? Are they complete? Did I follow the instructions correctly? The test ends, it’s over. But did my hard work pay off? Did I get a good grade?
Welcome to the world of test anxiety, something many students here at Voyager Academy must often contend with. But what is test anxiety? Test anxiety is the fear of failure experienced before or during a test, and often prevents students from performing to the best of their ability by inducing panic and a wealth of other symptoms. Test anxiety can affect anyone, but how it does so largely depends on a person’s personality and mentality. Large tests, often those with a high degree of importance, can be especially taxing even for those who don’t experience test anxiety often. Unit tests, final exams, SATs, ACTs, and AP exams are some of the most stressing, as a good score can sometimes mean the difference between failing or passing, or whether or not a prestigious college will consider you as a potential student and/or offer a scholarship.
With tests, each student often has a time period or periods where the stress reaches an apex. For several students, the days leading to test day grow increasingly stressful, as they worry if they have studied enough, understand everything and attempt to balance test preparation with homework and extracurriculars. “With a big test, you know it’s coming, and the stress increases as it draws closer, ” stated freshman Daniel Bryant. “It’s a lot to manage.” added sophomore Noah Wells. Others don’t worry so much about the material on the test, but rather the impact on their class average. “Students find big tests stressful because they worry about the impact on their grade,” commented AP Human Geography and AP US History teacher James Mills. For some, the worry doesn’t begin until the test does. These individuals obsess over the actual test, rather than what is prior to or after the evaluation. Others still find the period after the test to be most stressful, as they worry about results and panic if they believe they missed a certain question or two.
In addition to experiencing stress during different time periods, many students experience different side effects from test anxiety. For some pupils, the struggle is heavily mental. They experience effects like loss of concentration, loss of memory, self-doubt, or compare themselves to others. They may also become easily agitated, emotional, or confused while they work. “Sometimes when I test, I panic. Other times, I feel self-doubt.” sophomore Kylie Cabrera commented. For others, the stress takes a more physical toll. These people may experience light-headedness, hyperventilation, or develop a rapid heartbeat. Many people react through movement, by doing things like pressing their hands to their temples, tapping their fingers or pencils, moving their legs, stroking their hair, biting their nails, or repeatedly shifting. “If I’m stressed when taking a test, I might bite my nails or shake my feet to deal with it.” commented sophomore Holden Buchanan. Christian Jimerson added “Under stress, I’ll fidget or tap my fingers on my desk to stay relaxed.”
It isn’t just the large exams that induce fear and apprehension either. Pop quizzes can often be just as excruciating. Since they are unpredictable in nature and focus on material students are just becoming familiar with, they often make pupils feel unprepared and constantly on edge about the possibility of one happening. Senior Ugonna Ezuma-igwe captured student’s feelings on the matter. “Pop quizzes are very stressful. I’m already stressed as it is, and now, I have to deal with a surprise quiz.” Pop quizzes rarely demonstrates a student’s full capabilities, as the influence of stress and the different learning pace among students often give inaccurate results. Due to this, many teachers have opted to only use them rarely, or not at all. “Pop quizzes are a poor assessment of a student’s knowledge.” stated MathⅠteacher Christian Gloade. “I don’t believe pop quizzes show what a student can really do.” added Microsoft teacher Charles Robinson.
Since tests can also be poor indicators of a student’s knowledge, especially for those that are heavily influenced by test anxiety, several teachers opt to perform testing rarely, or even decide not to give tests and quizzes. These teachers instead turn to a variety of other methods to convey information and assess knowledge, like projects, class games and activities, or group discussions. These different methods of information can help to assess students better by giving the opportunity to channel creativity and let students apply what they’ve learned, rather than simply use that knowledge to answer questions. One of the strongest supporters of this new method of academic assessment is Civics and Economics teacher Steven Gatlin, who has not given a test outside of the finals and midterms in six years. “I think tests are not the best way to assess knowledge. Projects are much more effective. They give students a chance to apply what they’ve learned in places outside of the classroom.”
While tests are now gradually losing popularity, they shall most likely remain a part of education forever, and will never vanish completely. So how should teachers test students? And how often should they do it? Many students reported most forms of testing beyond multiple choice are quite stressful for them, with the most troublesome being essay tests. While these types of tests are essential in English classes, and are sometimes used to measure how well a pupil can communicate knowledge, they often induce panic. It can be difficult to transfer one’s thoughts onto paper, and since answers must be designed, not chosen, leaving something out will often cost valuable points. The response of an anonymous student showed the reasoning behind the fear. “Essay tests are taxing. With multiple choice, there are options, while with essay tests, if the answer is even partially wrong, the teachers will subtract points.”
As for the subject of test frequency, opinions are widely varied among both teachers and students. Some believe testing should be used frequently, saying that it helps to keep material fresh, while others claim it should be used rarely, as a review of a unit or subject. Others even say it should never be used, since there are so many other assessment options and several issues with testing.
With testing forever remaining a part of education, test anxiety will also fail to vanish. With this in mind, it’s important to confront it and ensure the effects it causes remain minimal. But how should one do so? Naturally, studying is essential, since being unprepared or feeling so is the most likely the reason for both testing stress and lower scores. MathⅡteacher Yen Nguyen especially recommends studying, saying that a lack of preparation is the biggest stress inducer. “Lack of studying is the biggest contribution to test anxiety. In most cases, students don’t study until the last minute for a test. Then the test becomes stressful since they’re unprepared.” Also, don’t wait until the night before the test to study, but study several days in advance if you can.
When you study, don’t just look over notes and worksheets, but practice problems and/or have someone quiz you. If the test is on a topic that you struggle with, don’t wait until the day of the test or afterwards to get help. Go to tutoring or talk with a parent as soon as possible. The night before a test, go to bed somewhat early if you can, and eat a good, healthy breakfast the following morning. When you’re sleep deprived or hungry while taking a test, as it becomes challenging to concentrate and think clearly. For these same reasons, avoid all nighters or skipping breakfast before a test.
When you test, don’t linger over problems you don’t know. Do everything you’re comfortable with and then come back to the tough ones. If you keep trying to solve a hard problem, you could run out of time and miss the chance to answer easy questions that would have boosted your score. If you get really stressed in a test setting or are easily distracted by other students, consider asking the teacher to if you can test in another room or outside in the hall. After the test, don’t obsess over your score or what it is if you won’t find out until later. Try and remember that this test isn’t everything and instead of asking yourself “What’s my score?”, ask yourself “Do I know the material?”. Understanding what you’re learning matters more than what score you got on a test. However, if your score is really low, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t, when that material reappears, it could hurt you again on future tests and class assignments, and even things like the finals or the SAT.
Also, remember this is only a test. Be more concerned about understanding the material than the score on your sheet. An A means nothing if you don’t truly understand what you’re learning and forget about it shortly afterwards. A C means everything if you know what you’re doing and you worked hard for it. Just try hard and work hard. Then no test will stand in your way on the road to success.
Test Anxiety. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/test-anxiety
Lyness, D’Arcy. (2013, July). Test Anxiety. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/test-anxiety.html#