Is exam anxiety a serious threat to university students academic potential and how could we support anxious students?
I have always been interested in the nature of exams and I want to expand my knowledge on the positive and negative factors surrounding students experiences during exam seasons at university.
I have a few points that I want to research that could help determine the severity of impact exams have on a student’s wellbeing;
- What is exam anxiety?
- What are the causes?
- What threat does it have on a students wellbeing and academic potential?
- Is it a serious threat?
- What positive experiences do exams provide for students?
- How many students experience exam anxiety?
- Who experiences exam anxiety? (male vs females, international vs domestic students, etc).
- What are current and/ or possible solutions to support students?
Why I believe this topic is timely, relevant and achievable
I believe that this discussion on exam anxiety is timely due to the recent shift in the structure of learning with the outbreak of COVID-19. This outbreak has forced me and fellow students to continue their studies online. On Twitter, I have recognised a lot of discussions on the heightened amount of worry students’ are now experiencing. I plan to connect this recent rise of stress and look into how it could apply to this semester exams. If exam anxiety is a serious threat, how will it play out with this recent pandemic?
Also, I have created a few polls on Twitter to see if I have a large enough audience to conduct a primary sourced analysis on this topic.
With having a range of 17-25 votes so far, I believe it is a good enough start to push further into this topic. Though, I need to work on my online presence to connect with more students.
A brief scoping review of research done on this topic
I have come across certain journal articles that analysed different aspects of exam anxiety and below are four examples that I have found relevant;
‘Emotion Regulation and Test Anxiety: The Contribution of Academic Delay of Gratification‘ by H. Bembenutty, W.J McKeachie and Y Lin had caught my interest for it explores several different factors that apply to a student’s behaviour when preparing for exams such as;
- The concept of ‘academic delay’ and how it can be a contributing factor to exam anxiety. This is when a student prefers to go to concerts or other distracting activities instead of studying for an exam. It demonstrates prioritising impulse satisfaction over academic rewards (2000, pp. 2).
- It also looks into the positive ways students can cope with their exam anxiety, for example setting new goals and seeking help from relevant sources. For a deeper analysis, it looks into the intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation for students to use to cope (2000, p. 4).
The ‘Examination of Test Anxiety in Samples of Australian and U.S. Higher Education Students‘ by Patricia Lowe is an article that mentions two particular discussion points that assist readers to understand why students may experience exam anxiety;
- This article looks into how perfectionism can act as both a detrimental and motivational role in a students experience before and during an exam (2019, p. 34).
- It also provides a historical analysis of past and current tests and scales that are used to measure test anxiety amongst students (2019, p. 33).
‘The influence of negative affect on test anxiety and academic performance: An examination of the tripartite model of emotions’ published in 2017 looks more broadly at the nature of exam anxiety and how it is demonstrated during preparations for exams.
- Cognitive factors, such as worrying about failing, feeling unprepared and having self-doubt, are deeply analysed in this study and how it factors into students academic performance (p. 1). This will be important for my study by determining if exam anxiety is a serious threat to students.
- It also expresses that exam anxiety can be associated with other forms of anxiety that is demonstrated in everyday life such as social and work anxiety (2017, p. 2). This will help myself understand how students function during and outside of exams.
‘Text anxiety on cognitive ability test can result in differential predictive validity of academic performance’ published in 2011 looks into both sides of the argument on whether exam anxiety is a serious threat;
- Firstly it suggests exam anxiety may not be a serious threat for it may instead be a result of bias or inaccurate predictions (2011, p. 497). By looking into this suggestion that students may be acting on assumptions on the level of their wellbeing will be very interesting for my research.
- Like the article above published in 2017, it also discusses opposing points of how exam anxiety does overall effect a students performance through cognitive factors of worry and negative evaluations and therefore occupies the student’s mind and therefore becomes a cycle of distracting and unproductive thoughts (2011, p. 498).
I have realised my opinion of exams, in general, is biased and negative. Though, my priority for this assessment is to research all sides of this topic and provide a fair analysis.
Bembenutty, H, McKeachie, W.J & Lin, Y 2000, ‘Emotion Regulation and Test Anxiety: The Contribution of Academic Delay of Gratification’, Delay of Gratification and Test Anxiety, 24 April, pp. 2-47.
Bonaccio, S, Reeve, C & Winford, E 2012, ‘Text anxiety on cognitive ability test can result in differential predictive validity of academic performance’ Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 497-502.
Chin, E, Harvey, S, Taylor, J & Williams, M 2017, ‘The influence of negative affect on test anxiety and academic performance: An examination of the tripartite model of emotions’, Learning the Individual Differences, vol. 54, pp. 1-8.
Lowe, P 2019, ‘Examination of Test Anxiety in Samples of Australian and U.S. Higher Education Students’, Higher Education Studies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 33-43.