Topic: Test anxiety causes university students to underperform in their examinations. Discuss. NOTE: The essay is in the left column. In the right hand column there are short notes indicating the various academic writing skills present in the essay. Essay
This essay examines the relationship between test anxiety in university students and their performance in examinations. Typically universities use examinations to test part or even all the knowledge of students, particularly in first year courses. As Burns (2004, p. 120) noted examination results can determine if a student passes a course or can progress onto further study, and may even influence employment opportunities. Understandably educators are concerned that examinations are a fair indication of a student’s knowledge. One area of special interest is the role anxiety plays in relation to examination performance.This essay argues that in general, test anxiety lowers performance slightly, although this is not evident in all situations, nor with all types of students. Further, it is argued that the main mechanism for this result appears to be that test anxiety leads to the development of interfering thoughts, which prevent a proper focus on examination tasks. The essay also points out that although many factors impact on examination performance, test anxiety is one of particular interest as it appears to lead directly to unfair results. Test anxiety is normally understood as a form of debilitating anxiety, although how it is measured varies. Early research indicated there were two forms of test anxiety: facilitative and debilitative. Facilitative anxiety is understood as a type of anxiety which students recognise as being helpful. For example, students answer positively to a question such as “Nervousness during a test helps me to do better” (Alpert & Haber, 1960, p. 213). Facilitating anxiety helps students succeed and has been found to be present in students with better results in tests of all kinds (Hembree, 1988, p. 59). However, since the 1960’s, it is debilitating anxiety which has come to be called ‘test anxiety’. It is defined by Sarason (1984) as the anxiety experienced in “one important definable class of threatening situations, those in which people are evaluated” (p. 929). Most researchers have recognised that test anxiety is complex. It can include a large range of features including thoughts, emotions, behaviours and body reactions such as tension or headache (Sarason, 1984, p. 931). Following from the work of Liebert and Morris (as cited in Hembree, 1988, p. 48) test anxiety has generally been examined in terms of Worry and/or Emotionality or some extension of these. ‘Worry’, covers the worrying thoughts which interfere either with examination preparation or with the processing of examination tasks. Emotionality, captures the awareness of bodily reactions to anxiety.Evidence points to the fact that, in general, test anxiety lowers performance slightly. This relationship has been studied for well over 60 years. During that time some studies have reported that test anxiety does not lead to lower results (Burns, 2004; Sansgiry, Bhosle, & Sail, 2006). However, these findings are not likely to be true of all students. Burns (2004, p. 121) examined general anxiety rather than the more specific ‘test anxiety’, thus limiting what he can claim. Equally, Sansgiry, Bhosle, and Sail’s (2006, p. E3) research findings are limited to their sample as it is skewed to a very particular groups of students with 72.5% being female and 51% Asian/Pacific Islander. More importantly, is the fact that most other studies have found that test anxiety does lower performance. For example, Hembree (1988) after analysising 562 studies of test anxiety concluded that for all students at all levels of education including university “test anxiety harms performance” (p. 75). More recent research involving university students has provided additional support...
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