Does Test Anxiety Affect Performance?

Is having the knowledge necessary to perform well on an exam the only factor in actually performing well? Students who experience high levels of test anxiety would argue no. It is common for students of any background to feel stress related to taking a test, but experiencing excessive levels of stress warrants considering they may suffer from test anxiety. You may be asking, “Is this a real thing?” Though it’s no secret that teenagers can be a little dramatic at times….this isn’t something just to brush off.

Test Anxiety- Tension and apprehensiveness associated with taking a test, frequently resulting in a decrease in test performance. -The American Psychological Association


So what is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is recognized by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as a form of performance anxiety. No, they aren’t performing on a stage, but they do endure an immense amount of pressure to perform well on their exam, especially for high-stakes exams such as states’ standardized tests and college entry exams like the ACT.


The way one student experiences test anxiety may not be the same for the next. This angst manifests through symptoms such as rapid heart beat, excessive sweating, nausea, stomach pain, restlessness, and headaches, among other symptoms. Not only are there physical signs, but the student’s emotions may alter, reflecting their anxiety. It’s possible to feel self-doubt, fear, inadequacy and even display anger due to their anxiousness around tests.


The problem with test anxiety is that it can cause performance below levels that the student should be able to exhibit. While some stress can be beneficial and a motivating factor to be well-prepared, test anxiety does not lead to better results. A 2018 study titled Testing, Stress, and Performance: How Students Respond Physiologically to High-Stakes Testing conducted by Jennifer A. Heisel et al., showed a “statistically significant increase in cortisol level in anticipation of high-stakes testing.” This same study showed large increases of cortisol levels directly related to under-performance on high-stakes tests.


What causes test anxiety?

The causes can’t be narrowed down to a list that would answer for everyone, but standardized tests tend to be a large source of anxiety for students. These aren’t tests that can typically be studied for. They are usually made up from a vast pool of curriculum that is taught over the span of years, as is the case with the ACT. Students can hold the knowledge necessary to do well on the test, and even refresh their knowledge on the basics of the subjects, but it still might not be enough. Even though the student should theoretically be able to perform well on the test based on knowledge and understanding, the symptoms that stem from their performance anxiety might hinder them from doing well. Some other causes of test anxiety could be:


 Timed tests

 Unfamiliar testing sites

 The need for a certain score/grade

 Score dependent rewards/scholarships


Can test anxiety be overcome for the ACT?

For a student who has taken the ACT and was left unsatisfied with their results, this anxiety could just perpetuate itself. The self-doubt from getting a low score can place the negative thought in their head that an improved score is not possible. They aren’t necessarily able to study to have more correct answers prepared… So is there something available to help move past this anxiety in order to earn a better score on their next test?


Fortunately, there are ways to work through the fog of test anxiety

The ACT Prep Queen offers a course that teaches students how to take the ACT. Through this course students are taught ways to work through their anxiety to be able to produce a more accurate reflection of the knowledge they hold. This isn’t an insider cheat sheet that provides answers to be regurgitated for the test, but actual skills that give students the confidence and support to use their knowledge.

If you are the parent, teacher or mentor of a high school student looking to work past their test anxiety in order to improve their scores, reach out to The ACT Prep Queen to sign up for the next course.

This blog is sponsored by The ACT Prep Queen and marketed by Transaction Possibilities.

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