A study shows that 16-20% of students suffer from "test anxiety", and thus perform around 12 percentile points lower than those with low anxiety.
Test anxiety is when students “freeze-up” or seem to forget what they’ve studied when faced with the pressure of answering a test. Adults can mistakenly blame this on the student, and conclude that it is the result of not studying well enough, but test anxiety is a real condition.
Dr. Robert Pressman, lead researcher for New England Pediatric Psychology, describes the three distinct component of test anxiety as such:
Behavioral – “going blank” or having disorganized thoughts
Psychological – feeling extremely nervous, restless or insecure
Physiological – being light-headed, nauseous, or having a rapid heartbeat, knot in the stomach, headache, tension, sweating, and even fainting
Rebecca Jackson, co-author of The Learning Habit gives her tips for students to overcome test anxiety.
“When students are handed the test, the strategy is to first turn the paper(s) over to the blank side, do the cuing action (usually touching the temple), take deep breaths, and silently say a rehearsed message. Here’s the one I use with my kids: ‘I know this. I am the boss of this test. I can do this.’ Only then should they turn the test over and begin.”
She adds, “As with all testing strategies, children are taught to answer the questions they know first, rather than spend too much time on ones they don’t know; this way they don’t miss the opportunity of getting credit for correct answers because they ran out of time and let anxiety build. When they start to feel anxious, they turn the paper over and repeat the relaxation exercise. It literally takes seconds, but can make all the difference.”