Accounting for anxiety

The stress of testing can harm student performance

The pencil in her hand started to slip away while sweat beads formed on the palms of her hands. Her whole body nervously trembled as a cloud of doubt hovered over her head. 

These are just some of the symptoms sophomore Natalia Delgado experiences while taking tests at school. 

“It’s good that the school is testing us to prove our knowledge, but it puts additional stress on students, and it has a negative effect on our mindset,” Delgado said.

Test anxiety is a common problem affecting many students at SHS. According to adolescent physician Stephanie Ferrin, most cases of test anxiety are rooted from previous test-taking experiences.

“Those who don’t feel good about their past tests, whether it be a bad grade or feeling stressed, can present a problem in having more test anxiety,” Ferrin said. 

According to Ferrin, 12 to 15% of teens experience test anxiety. Ferrin says that studies have shown that females and ethnic minorities experience it the most. Those who have had it often have symptoms such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating and headaches. Ferrin says that people who have serious test anxiety often become light headed and can have panic attacks. 

The Journal conducted an experiment to see how students reacted to being given a test. After the test students filled out a survey. In the survey, students rated their anxiety from 0-10 when answering the questions, zero being the least and 10 being the most. Four out of seven students rated their anxiety between a two and a four, and three out of seven students rated their anxiety between six and eight. Then, students checked some of the symptoms they were feeling from a provided list. The psychological list consisted of symptoms which were, “butterflies” in the stomach, sweating, rapid heartbeat and shaking.The most common checked off psychological symptoms were rapid heartbeat and sweating. Next, cognitive symptoms were listed including forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, negative self talk and fidgeting. The majority of participants reported forgetfulness and fidgeting. Students then wrote a couple sentences describing how they felt during the test.

“I felt like I was forgetting some questions because I was anxious,” one respondent wrote in their survey. “I think I was second guessing myself, even though I knew some of the answers.”

English teacher Dawn Fowerbaugh has witnessed these symptoms in her own classroom. She proctors standardized tests and gives out English tests to students. 

“It’s a very stressful environment these kids are in,” Fowerbaugh said. “Sometimes I’ll see my students put their head down or shake their legs.” 

Junior Christina Naing says she notices herself moving around in her seat when testing, so she tries to calm herself down with positive affirmations. 

“If I get nervous during tests, I fidget a lot and try to dig through my brain for information,” Naing said. “Then, I give it my best guess and remind myself that a test doesn’t define me.” 

Ferrin says the development of test anxiety can be shown in different models. In this specific case, a transactional model can be used. This model demonstrates continuous change. This change can be related to different surroundings and new feelings. Humans are used to following patterns and when something seems out of their control or authority, anxiety can occur. 

Junior Christina Naing loses confidence when she sees a test problem that she is unsure about or is somewhat challenging. 

“I feel anxious when I come across a problem that I don’t recall studying for,” Naing said. 

English teacher Sarah Berghoff believes that students often second guess themselves, which contributes to their doubt and anxiety. 

“People are afraid of making mistakes and not knowing things, so it makes sense why  students get so nervous,” Berghoff said. 

Test anxiety can also be explained with a proposed biopsychosocial model, Ferrin writes. It incorporates biological, psychological and environmental factors. For example, some people may have certain genes that predispose them to anxiety, or they may start to mimic other people’s testing anxiety if they see it around them. Ferrin mentions that if a student is sitting next to someone with test anxiety symptoms, they may start to mimic their behavior and develop it themselves. 

Ferrin says test anxiety not only comes with symptoms, but the anxiety can affect final grades, too. She says that there are various studies that show that those who have test anxiety will perform weaker than their peers. 

Delgado believes that her test anxiety affects her logical ways of thinking. Instead, her head is clouded with worries. 

“When I get test anxiety, I develop a mindset that tells me that I’m going to fail, even though I have already studied the material,” Delgado said. 

Although test anxiety can be a struggle, there are many ways to cope with it, according to Ferrin. For those who suffer from serious test anxiety, Ferrin recommends going to a therapist and practicing cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a program that helps to neutralize a person’s reactions to stressful situations. This can help with test anxiety because it helps develop tools to calm worries. 

She’s noticed that many people with test anxiety don’t get help when they need it the most. 

“Test anxiety is something very common and people attach a stigma to it and don’t know how to get treatment when they should,” Ferrin wrote. 

She also suggests caring for one’s basic needs. Teens need at least nine hours of sleep each night because it aids in the growth process. Ferrin also suggests drinking lots of water, doing daily exercise and limiting caffeine intake. Ferrin says this helps to regulate body functions such as memorization and focus. If these techniques do not help one’s test anxiety, Ferrin suggests going to the doctor and considering a medication. 

She also says that practicing mindfulness techniques that connect the mind and body can reduce test anxiety. One method she recommends is called square breathing. It’s the process of inhaling and holding a breath for one count and then exhaling and holding a breath. 

“It’s important to practice mindfulness in order to recognize what you are experiencing,” Ferrin said. 

Science teacher Daryl Traylor believes the simple act of breathing and stepping away from a frantic mind can help reduce stress. 

“Most students are prepared for their tests,” Traylor said. “They should just take some deep breaths and work through it the best they can.”

  Testing can come with hardships, according to Berghoff. She says those who have test anxiety should remember to always try their hardest and remember that making mistakes is not the end of the world.

“A test is very important, but it doesn’t establish your worth as a human being,” Berghoff said. “It’s just something we have to do in life.”