Student Test Anxiety and Learning Strategy


Abstract

Increased anxiety is often felt when individuals encounter life-events that may instigate recurring fears or worries, such as a test environment. Previous studies have found that female students tend to report more test anxiety compared to their male peers. Learning strategies such as rehearsal help learners acquire knowledge at a surface level by retaining information through repetition. The purpose of this study was to explore gender differences in self-reported levels of test anxiety and to investigate whether these differences and reported rates of test anxiety are related to the reported use of rehearsal as a learning strategy. We hypothesised students who report higher levels of test anxiety also report higher levels of rehearsal-strategy and that female students report higher levels of test anxiety compared to male students. Two thousand, and eighty four participants responded to the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire. 1269 (67.4%) were women and 613 (32.6%) were men. Participants ages ranged from 16 to 89 years with a mean of 21.28 years (SD=1.53). Participants who reported higher levels of test anxiety also tended to report higher levels of rehearsal as a learning strategy and females tended to report higher levels of test anxiety compared to males. Comparatively high incidences of anxiety and stress have been reported in a global sample including students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing student’s levels of test anxiety should be a key aim for university policy that integrates measures to mitigate hazards to mental health including education on appropriate learning strategies.

Introduction

One in four people will experience a mental health concern in their lives; suggesting that many students are likely to be affected. Mental illness is argued to top the list globally of primary reasons for burden of disease. It is therefore of utmost importance that academic institutions encourage methods of study that are likely to limit symptoms of anxiety and other mental health disorders amongst student populations, as well as providing appropriate support.

Anxiety has been long studied in comprehending the function of emotion related to performance, usually noted by feelings of tension, worried thought patterns, and associated physiological manifestations, such as high blood pressure (APA, 2013). Increased anxiety is often felt when individuals encounter life-events that may stimulate recurring fears or worries, such as a test environment. Test anxiety is often due to fears that are triggered by potential critical evaluation resulting in knock on negative behavioural, emotional or physical responses (Zeidner, 1998). Previous studies have found that female students tend to report more test anxiety compared to males (Núñez-Peña et al., 2016). Biological, psychological, and environ-mental variables affect how individuals respond in a test situation exhibiting varying levels of anxiety. These include differing styles of learning strategy (e.g., self-efficacy, motivation and self-regulation) and also gender (Schnell et al., 2015).

Learning strategies such as deep-processing and monitoring allow individuals to modulate their own study, knowledge acquisition and academic achievement (Flavell, 1981; Paris & Lindauer, 1982). Students who have modified their processes meta-cognitively, motivationally, and behaviourally to be more involved in their learning by adopting such strategies are more likely to achieve success (Camahalan, 2006). Failure to uptake these approaches can mean diminished achievement and/or heightened anxiety levels through the testing process (Fulk and Brigham, 1998).

Self-regulation is noted as “an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behaviour, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment” (Pintrich, 2000, p. 453). Learning strategies such as rehearsal help learners assume knowledge at a more surface level by remembering subject matter through repetition such as a learner who listens to an on-line lecture multiple times or repeatedly reviews lecture notes and lists to memorise key terms and theories.

There is growing support in literature connecting specific learning strategies with assessment-related anxiety (Sotardi & Brogt, 2020) and researchers have shown rehearsal to be positively related with anxiety compared to other strategies (Credé & Phillips, 2011). Interestingly, studies exploring correlation between rehearsal and educational achievement have not found a strong significant relationship (Puzziferro, 2008). Meta-analysis of three papers did not find a significant association between rehearsal and achievement. Since this strategy has not been found to be linked with improved academic achievement, it is possible that students adopting this strategy experience a higher level of test anxiety due to preceding academic results and a potential last minute preparatory approach. Bidjerano (2005) found that female students tend to more frequently use rehearsal learning strategy compared to males. Rehearsal as a learning strategy is thought to be a superficial strategy that does not provide robust learning (Pintrich, 2000).


Since female students experience a higher level of test anxiety, we were motivated to examine any correlation between test anxiety and rehearsal as a self-regulated learning strategy. Studies examining gender differences in the wider discourse of self-regulated learning report conflicting findings with some studies concluding no significant disparities while others show such divide (Bidjerano, 2005; Susilowati et al., 2020). Based on these points, the purpose of this study is to explore gender differences in self-reported levels of test anxiety amongst study participants. Furthermore, our research aims to investigate whether rates of test anxiety are related to the reported use of rehearsal as a learning strategy. We hypothesise those who report higher levels of test anxiety also report higher levels of rehearsal-strategy and that female participants report higher levels of test anxiety compared to males.

Methods

Participants