Test Anxiety

What is test anxiety?

When a person gets nervous or anxious the body sends signals to the brain to release certain hormones and chemicals into their bloodstream.  These chemicals allow the brain to focus on the matter at hand.  If too much of this chemical is released and the student becomes too anxious or nervous, the part of the brain needed to perform higher-level thinking is shut off.  Higher-level thinking is what is needed to recall information to make a good decision.  This process worked great for our ancestors that needed to focus on survival when danger was present, but it doesn’t work so well for students trying to do well when taking a test.   Too much anxiety will not give students optimal testing results, nor will it show the student’s true ability and knowledge on the subject.


How can I tell if I have test anxiety?

Westside Test Anxiety Scale

Between 15-35 percent of students are adversely affected by high test anxiety,
depending on the criteria for inclusion and the students sampled. Highly anxious students
score about 12 percentile points below their low-anxiety peers (Hembree, 1988), making
test anxiety one of the more serious academic handicaps among students today.
School programs to reduce test-anxiety impairment need an instrument to identify
those students who are anxious and might benefit from an anxiety-reduction intervention,
with some assurance that the instrument properly identifies test-anxiety impairments.

The Westside Test Anxiety Scale is an extremely brief screening instrument meant
to identify students with anxiety impairments. The scale is comprised of ten items, and
takes about five minutes to administer. It has been used by school counselors
over several years, and has been the primary anxiety measure in three research projects.

Take the Westside Scale to find out how much anxiety is affecting you on the test.

Rate how true each of the following is of you, from extremely or always true, to not at all or never true. Use the following 5 point scale.

5 extremely true, always true
4 highly true, usually true
3 moderately true, sometimes true
2 slightly true, seldom true
1 not at all true, never true

__ 1) The closer I am to a major exam, the harder it is for me to concentrate on the material.
__ 2) When I study, I worry that I will not remember the material on the exam.
__ 3) During important exams, I think that I am doing awful or that I may fail.
__ 4) I lose focus on important exams, and I cannot remember material that I knew before the exam.
__ 5) I finally remember the answer to exam questions after the exam is already over.
__ 6) I worry so much before a major exam that I am too worn out to do my best on the exam.
__ 7) I feel out of sorts or not really myself when I take important exams.
__ 8) I find that my mind sometimes wanders when I am taking important exams.
__ 9) After an exam, I worry about whether I did well enough.
__ 10) I struggle with writing assignments, or avoid them as long as I can. I feel that whatever I do will not be good enough.

_____ Sum of the 10 questions
_____ Divide the sum by 10. This is your Test Anxiety score.

What does your test anxiety score mean?

1.0-1.9 Comfortably low test anxiety
2.0-2.5 Normal or average test anxiety
2.5-2.9 High normal test anxiety
3.0-3.4 Moderately high (some items rated 4=high)
3.5-3.9 High test anxiety (half or more of the items rated 4=high)
4.0-5.0 Extremely high anxiety (items rated 4=high and 5=extreme)

2004 by Richard Driscoll, Ph.D.
You have permission to copy this material.  (Please include author & copyright).

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