Test anxiety has a negative impact on student’s academic scores

Test anxiety has a negative impact on student’s academic scores


Test anxiety is a major factor in hindering student performance. Students experience test anxiety during their evaluation period and this affects their performance negatively in varied levels. This study was conducted to assess the level of awareness, of test anxiety, the causes and the possible remedies to the problem. Fifty respondents were sampled from among Abu Dhabi University students from first to fourth year from three main courses offered by the university; engineering, business administration and other art based courses. There were 60% male and 40% female respondents. Well designed questionnaires were administered to the participants, the data was entered into excel, exported to SPSS version 17.0 for analysis. The results indicated that 60% of the respondents were aware of test anxiety. Inadequate preparation was identified as the major cause of test anxiety with 60% of the respondents agreeing to it. However, the course content was perceived to be a major contributor with 30 % of the respondents sighting it as the major cause of test anxiety besides previous bad experience with the tests, worry and others. Other than inadequate preparation, course perception, previous experience and worry, all the other causes of test anxiety were only mentioned by 10% of the respondents. Adequate preparation and good study skills were identified as the major ways of reducing test anxiety.


Background information

Tests have been used to assess the performance of learners since time immemorial. There are various ways of testing learners including oral, written and practical tests. These tests usually produce different results for various students. There are students who do well in oral tests as compared to written tests. There are those who will perform very well in practical but fail to perform in written tests. All the different forms of tests are taken by the students with varied levels of tension. Due to the value attached to good performance in the tests, they are usually taken with a lot of anxiety that in the end may make the learners not perform well.

Test anxiety has been defined as the reaction to stimuli that are associated with an individual’s experience of testing or evaluating situations. It can also be defined as the reaction that students exhibit to examinations. Two principal components of test anxiety are cognition and emotion. The cognitive component is the mental activity that revolves around the testing situation and its potential implications on the individual and constitutes elements, such as thinking about consequences of failure, worrying a great deal about examinations, and lack of confidence in one’s ability. The emotionality component is the physiological component of test anxiety leading to tension, apprehension, and nervousness towards examinations, which may be associated with somatic symptoms such as palpitation, nausea, and perspiration

Statement of the problem

There is debate on whether progress in learning is best monitored by administration of assessment tests and examination sessions. However, there are cases where above average students have performed very poorly when tests are conducted. Studies have also indicated that the same students can perform better in the same exams provided there is no anxiety or tension as they take the tests. The performance of learners in many public universities has been declining with the increase in the value attached to good performance in the assessment tests. Grading and scores are good for this assessment. However, some of the learners find it difficult to cope up with the anxiety which comes with the expectation that comes with exams. This has contributed to poor performance of some learners making tests not to be very effective in performance of the learners.


Broad objectives

  • The objective of this study was to assess how test anxiety affects the performance of the students

Specific objectives

  1. To determine students awareness of test anxiety
  2. To assess the factors that contributes to test anxiety
  3. To determine whether anxiety causes poor performance
  4. To know the effective ways in dealing with test anxiety


  1. Performance of learners is not affected by test anxiety
  2. There are no known factors that contribute to test anxiety
  3. There are no known effective ways of dealing with test anxiety.


Manifestation of test anxiety

It is the desire of every educationist to understand factors influencing student achievement and academic performance (Feinstein, 2006). Various studies have been conducted in quest for understanding the causes of dismal performance among students in schools and colleges (Woods, 2013; Bridges, 2013). Some of the factors which have been identified include, adequate preparation of the learners for the examinations, change in the pattern of questions, cramming, and failure to focus on questions, carelessness and test anxiety (Cassady, 2004). Test anxiety refers to the physiological and behavioral responses that accompany learners in evaluative situations due to concern about possible negative consequences or failure (Chapell et al., 2005). According to Sasngiry and Sail (2006), test anxiety is defined as the reaction in the response exhibited by individuals due to evaluative situations (Sansgiry and Sail, 2006). Test anxiety may be manifested both during the preparation period for tests and while taking the actual tests. Various studies have shown that test anxiety can lead to poor academic performance. Test anxiety is a major predictor of academic performance and various studies have demonstrated that it has a detrimental effect. Students with high test anxiety develop and maintain less complete conceptual representations of the course content (Cassady, 2004).

Most students in both lower and higher institutions of learning experience some levels of anxiety during an exam (Young, 1991). Some levels of anxiety may be necessary to give learners positive drive in their studies (Sun et al., 2008). However, when anxiety affects performance in tests or examinations, it becomes a problem (McDonald, 2001). Test anxiety can interfere with the students’ performance and prevent them from demonstrating their knowledge on examinations (Ramirez and Beilock, 2011). Some students have the skills and knowledge to do very well in testing situations, but anxiety impairs their performance (Eysenck, and Calvo,1992). The differences in reading comprehension performance among learners can best be explained by anxiety.

Causes of test anxiety

Several factors have been known to cause test anxiety (Kline, 2013). The past experiences and beliefs encountered by the students which have been shaped by a complex interplay of factors, may result in unique reactions to a test situation and lead to test anxiety (McDonald, 2001). These may include their past experiences with courses and their perceptions of course load, as well as their ability to manage time (Sansgiry and Sail, 2006). Extensive course load and comprehensive information in academic curricula necessitates use of proper time management and effective study strategies to equip the learners with enough skill and confidence to overcome anxiety.

Students who do not provide enough time for their studies and practice tests are more likely to develop anxiety more than their counterparts who provide enough time for study and practice (Hill and Wigfield, 1984). There are also students who suffer test phobia a situation that can increase tension and stress whenever the learners are exposed to test situations (Tanveer, 2007). This is also more common among students who lack adequate preparation before the tests. Observed that students who create ample time for preparation for tests suffer less anxiety and are likely to perform well that those who waste time in other activities outside their course (Rau and Durand, 2000).

Various models and theories have been suggested to explain the causes of test anxiety. Birjandi & Alemi (2010) suggested the interference model theory in which high test anxious students produces responses that are irrelevant to the test situations hindering relevant responses. Sansgiry and Sail, (2006) investigated the learning deficit situation in which the students with inadequate preparation had higher test anxiety that their counterparts who were better prepared. This model proposes two aspects that can make an individual learner not perfume well. They include the study skills deficits and the test taking deficits (Tobias, 1985). Zeidner, (1998) observed that the study skills equip the learners with the content to write during tests. When the study skills are poor, the learner will always be ill prepared to take exams leading to poor performance. Learners who have better study skills are better equipped to take the tests than the ones who are not. By extension they have lower test anxiety and perform much better than their counterparts with low study skills.

Symptoms of test anxiety

Test anxiety manifests in various forms among students (Segool et al., 2013). There are physical expressions which are usually biological that can be exhibited by learners. They occur due to the hormonal, chemical and muscular changes in the body. The reactions may result to nausea, sweating, increased heart beat and feelings of faintness. A combination of these factors interferes with the normal thinking of the brain making it difficult for the learners to retrieve from their memory what they already know (Engels, 2007).

The perceived threat from the fear of exam, may make the body to develop the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ state, a situation which complicates further the thinking process making the learner to perform dismally in the exams. Since these reactions cannot be managed easily by the body, the mind responds by creating mental images of what is expected as the outcome of the result leading to problems with memory. In extreme cases, test anxiety can cause diarrhoea and even fever which are symptoms of other diseases. Reduction of test anxiety is one of the many options that can be used in enhancing performance among learners.

Test anxiety results to responses which are irrelevant to testing situation making the learner to perform poorly (Shokrpour, Zareii, Zahedi, and Rafatbakhsh, 2011). They observed that learners may over focus on themselves with feelings that they are the only ones who are not conversant with the questions yet everyone else is just like them. This thinking hinders their concentration in constructive thinking and prevents them from retrieving what they already know. The physical expressions such as sweating and increased heart beat may appear outrageous but have little effect on the performance. On the contrary, worry (cognitive component) about the negative outcome of the test results can prevent all the positive aspects of the learner’s ability to retrieve what is in his or her memory (Sansgiry and Sail, 2006).

Remedies aimed at reducing the impact of test anxiety should be directed to worry component. Meichenbaum (1972) observed that worry has direct impacts on test performance and reduces performance significantly. Worry specifically hinders the retrieval of test relevant information and contributes largely to dismal performance. Efforts should be made to ensure that the worry component of anxiety is eliminated in order to effectively reduce the impacts (Meichenbaum, 1972).

Overcoming test anxiety

In order to overcome test anxiety, learners have to deal effectively with the causes of the problem. Adequate preparation prior to tests is necessary to equip the learners with materials to write in exams. Many study skills have been suggested to help the learners increase their subject mastery. Generally, academic skills such as test preparation, proper time utilization, taking organized class notes and proper internalization of the subject matter will enhance the performance of students. These aspects of learning will boost the students expectation and performance. Zeidner (1998) observed that the amount of time spent by a learner on school work is a predictor of the performance of the student. This implies that when a learner spends quality time in course work, there are better chances of performing well that the other counterparts who waste their time on other things other than academics.

Owing to the fact that the causes of test anxiety are known, it is necessary for parents, instructors and learners to work to ensure that anxiety is reduced to the minimum. The student should develop good study habits that will ensure timely and effective coverage of the syllabus. Last minute cramming should be avoided at all costs (Cassady, 2004). The candidate should always ensure that he or she has a good night sleep prior to the examination time. Hunger reduces concentration. It is therefore important to ensure that your hunger is managed to prevent anxiety.


Case study

Abu Dhabi University was established in 2003 in the United Arab Emirates. It offers both undergraduate and post graduate degree courses following the American Model of higher education. With an enrolment of over two thousand student, the university envisions to be the best in the world. As a result, all the courses offered by the university have received accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Both the college of business and that of engineering programs received accreditation in 2015.

Sampling technique

A survey was conducted on 50 randomly selected from Abu Dhabi University students. A well designed questionnaire (Appendix 1) was be used to obtain information about the level of anxiety associated with exam and evaluation situations.

Questionnaire pretesting

Before the actual survey, the questionnaire was pretested on 3 respondents. The aim of the pretesting was to determine the actual time the whole interview will take in order to remove the unnecessary questions were making it unnecessary longer.

Data to be collected

Social economic traits

Social economic traits such as age, gender, year of study, course and cGPA were collected primary due to their importance. These traits influence significantly the level of awareness on effects of anxiety

Anxiety related data.

After the social economic data was collected, respondents were then interviewed on various anxiety related question that included:

  • Their awareness on test anxiety
  • Factors that contributes to test anxiety
  • Effects of test anxiety on performance
  • Effective ways in dealing with test anxiety

Data analysis

The raw data collected was first entered into Excel and then exported to SPSS version 17. The analysis was done and descriptive statistics was generated. The results presented in form of charts and table.


Social economic data

Table 1. Social economic data

Socio-economic characteristics No. of respondents percentage
Sex Female






Year of study










Course undertaken Business Administration

Arts and sciences























The above information was collected from 50 students of Abu Dhabi University students. Owing to the fact that all the respondents were from the same university, students taking three different courses were sampled. They were from engineering, business administration, arts and sciences. For comparison, both male and female students were considered as sample population. They were also taken from year 1 to year 4. There were more female than males in the sample population. There were 60% male and 40% female. From year 1, there were 9 respondents, year 2 were 10, year 3 were 17 and year 4 were 14 in number. In terms of the specialties, the respondents taking business administration were the majority at 40%. Engineering and art based courses were each represented by 30% of the respondents. Previous performance of the respondents were also recorded. None of the respondents had ever had A+, 10 of them had previously had A, 20 had B+, 15 had got B and 5 of them had C (Table 1).

Student’s awareness of test anxiety

Table 2: Student’s awareness of test anxiety

S.No Ratings No. of Respondents Percentage
1 Aware 30 60
2 Not aware 10 20
3 No Comments 10 20

Student’s awareness of test anxiety

When the students were asked whether they were aware of what test anxiety was, 60% of them were well aware of test anxiety. Only 20% were not aware at all of such a phenomenon while another 20% chose not to talk about it and gave no comments (Table 2). This is presented in the chart below (Figure 1). The part shaded blue is the region representing the number of respondents who are aware of test anxiety. The maroon color represents those who were not aware while the green color represents those who gave no comments.

Figure 1: Chart showing the level of awareness of test anxiety among the Abu Dhabi University students.

Factors that contributes to test anxiety

The respondents were asked to state the most likely cause of test anxiety for them. Twenty percent of the respondents said that they suffered test anxiety due to inadequate preparation (Table 3). Majority of the respondents indicated that the courses that they were taking was difficult and had wide coverage making subject mastery near impossible and this gave them a lot of difficulties and made them develop test anxiety. Up to 30% of the respondents cited difficulty of the courses as the main cause of test anxiety. For some respondents, previous experience with the exams was the main course of the problem of test anxiety and this was indicated by 20% of the respondents. Also, worry was reported as the greatest cause of test anxiety. Worry affected 20% of the respondents and they sited that it made them suffer inconsistent memory. Only 10% of the respondents indicated other causes of anxiety other than the ones listed (Table 3). It emerged from the respondents that the course load or complexity was the greatest cause of test anxiety (Figure 2).

Table 3: Factors that contributes to test anxiety

S.No Ratings No. of Respondents Percentage
1 Inadequate preparation for tests 10 20
2 Perception: Course content (some courses believed to be tough) 15 30
3 Previous bad experience with test 10 20
4 worry 10 20
5 others 5 10

Figure 2: Factors that lead to test anxiety

Anxiety as a major cause of poor performance

The respondents were also asked to rate how much they associated their performance to test anxiety and whether it led to poor performance. Fifty percent of the respondents strongly agreed that test anxiety was a major cause of poor performance. Thirty two percent agreed that test anxiety caused dismal performance. None of the respondents failed to give a comment. However, 12% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that test anxiety caused poor performance. Six percent of the respondents strongly disagreed with the statement that test anxiety caused poor performance in the tests (Table 4).

Table 4: Student’s opinion anxiety as a major cause of poor performance

S.No Ratings No. of Respondents Percentage
1 Strongly Agree 25 50
2 Agree 16 32
3 No Comments 0 0
4 Disagree 6 12
5 Strongly Disagree 3 6
Total 50 100

Figure 3: Student’s opinion anxiety as a major cause of poor performance

Effective ways in dealing with test anxiety

The students were asked if they were aware of any ways which would help in the reduction of test anxiety. Sixty percent of the respondents suggested that adequate preparation was necessary to reduce test anxiety. Only ten percent of the respondents suggested that good study habits would help in the reduction of test anxiety. However, for some students, maybe adequate preparation and good study habits meant the same things. Twenty percent of the respondents identified worries as a critical factor and should be avoided at all costs. Others, 10% suggested that more time spent on books would be a better way of dealing with test anxiety. From the results, it is clear that all the respondents reiterated aspects that only focus on preparation in one way or the other. Adequate preparation, good study habits, and spending more time on books are all important aspects that contribute to good preparation for exams.

Table 5: Students opinion on Effective ways in dealing with test anxiety

S.No Ratings No. of Respondents Percentage
1 Adequate preparation 30 60
2 Good study habits 5 10
3 Avoid worries 10 20
4 More time spent on books 5 10
Total 50 100


Institutions of higher learning are characterized with high levels of diversity. Abu Dhabi University is one of the few universities in the United Arab Emirates and has a student enrolment of about two thousand. The sample of fifty that was taken had more males than female since the overall population of the university is about 70% male and 30% female. Learners are usually aware of test anxiety. From the results, it can be seen that 60% of the students were aware of test anxiety. This high level of awareness was probably because at the university level it finds when the learners have taken many tests before and know what it means to be test anxious. Only 20% of the respondents were not aware of test anxiety. This indicates that the students were very conversant with the problem.

It is also evident that the students understand some of the causes of test anxiety. According to the respondents, inadequate preparation for the tests was the major factor that leads to test anxiety. Test preparation is multifaceted with the factors spreading across from the individual learner, instructor and the learning environment. The learner needs to develop good study skills and avail quality time to enable proper preparation. Even though some of the respondents indicated that work load and complexity of the courses was a major cause of anxiety, the aspect of preparation emerged to be the greatest. In order for the learners to overcome anxiety, adequate preparation is necessary among the learners.

It was interesting to know that some of the respondents did not agree that test anxiety contributed to poor performance. Twelve percent of the respondents disagreed with the fact that test anxiety caused poor performance. This is probably because, there are people who associate good performance with intelligence and poor performance with stupidity. They do not consider test preparation as an important aspect of evaluation. They therefore do not accept that low performance has anything to do with anxiety but everything to do with understanding course content.

Eighty two percent of the respondents agreed that test anxiety contributed to low performance. In fact 50% of the respondents strongly agreed that test anxiety was contributing to dismal performance of the learners. It is therefore necessary to deal effectively with test anxiety. This means that test anxiety can make it difficult to gauge the students that are under evaluation since they are not able to reproduce what they know due to interference with memory. As was observed by Cassady (2004), worry that gets into the mind at the time of the test can make the learner fail to remember the points which were already mastered by the learner.

The learners also suggested ways through which some of the problem of test anxiety can be solved. As can be seen from the results, most of them suggested approaches that contributes to effective preparation for the tests. Sixty percent of the respondents agreed that adequate preparation was the best method of reducing test anxiety. This study is consistent with what was observed by Zedner (1998) who identified adequate preparation as one of the key pillars of reducing test anxiety and enhancing performance. In essence all the respondents gave suggestions that point to adequate preparation as they suggested aspects such as more time for studies and having good study habits.


In conclusion, test anxiety is a major issue that contribute to dismal performance of the students in the higher institutions of learning. This study has indicated that lack of adequate preparation and wide course coverage are the major causes of test anxiety which results to poor performance. Adequate preparation, good study habits and spending quality time of studies have been identified as some of the effective ways of dealing with test anxiety and poor performance. It is recommended that the learners get admitted to courses that they find interesting so that they do not find them burdensome and the ones which appear to be broad should be given more time to spread the work load.


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Abu Dhabi University Student Test Anxiety Questionnaire


PART A: Personal Information (Fill in the blank spaces)





Academic Year:_________________


PART B: (Test anxiety awareness)

Are you aware of test anxiety which is experienced by students during evaluation? (Tick appropriately).

Aware Not Aware No comments

In your opinion, which one of the following factors contributes to test anxiety?

Factors (Tick)
Inadequate preparation for tests
Perception: Course content (some courses believed to be tough)
Previous bad experience with test

Others specify ________________________________________________________________

In your opinion, rate in a scale of 1 to 5 whether you agree that test anxiety causes poor performance (1=strongly agree, 2=agree, 3=no comments, 4=disagree, 5=strongly disagree)

Strongly Agree Agree No Comments Disagree Strongly Disagree

In your opinion, what is the most effective way of reducing test anxiety?

Most effective ways Tick appropriately
Adequate preparation
Good study habits
Avoiding worries
More time spent on books

Overall comments­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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