Reducing Test Anxiety To Increase Testing Performance

Introduction

I’ve learned that many computer certifications are earned by taking a computerized test (The Training Camp, 2003). For the last few years I have given students computerized tests. It has helped me be a better teacher by preparing them for future computerized certificates, and has taught students how to do well on computerized tests under pressure. I believe it has also increased their self-confidence in testing, but I wanted to see what strategies would increase students’ performance on such tests.

Teacher Research Project

This action research project involved 26 freshman students in a small rural, Midwestern high school. I presented four different learning strategies over eight weeks. First, I taught them an Excel unit using a direct instruction method and then they tested (Association For Direct Instruction, 2003). Secondly, I taught them another Excel unit, yet this time we used various study skills to review for the test (University of St. Thomas, 2003). Third, I taught another Excel unit plus taught students how to use relaxation exercises while taking the test (University of Texas at Austin, 2002). Fourth, the students learned the next Excel unit by using a tutorial and then took the test (Society For Technical Communication, 2003). I used blackboard.com to create the automated tests. All tests had three multiple choice, three true/false, and three fill-in-the-blank types of assessment items. I then collected data through classroom observation of student behaviors, student test scores, student’s journal entries, student interviews, and student surveys.

I learned that the Direct Instruction method was the best strategy to increase test performance. The average test score with this teaching method was 94%. The Study Skills method placed second at 85%. The Relaxation was third at 83% while the Tutorial Learning was last at 77%. From analyzing completed surveys plus student journals and interviews, I learned that 96% of the students thought that both my teaching presentation and the study skills helped them the most when taking the tests. Only 46% of the students thought tutorials helped them take the test while 42% thought relaxation exercises were of benefit.

The Direct Instruction method consisted of reviewing the prior day’s material at the beginning of each class. Then I taught the first Excel unit using a computerized projector while putting notes on the board. At the end of class I reviewed what I had taught that day. Average test results included: 96% on the true/false items, 96% on the multiple choice items, and 89% on the sentence completion items. The overall test score averaged a 94%.

During the Study Skills approach the students were instructed that before the test they should eat breakfast, get a good nights sleep, relax, and not review (University of St. Thomas, 2003). They learned that during the test they should read directions carefully, skip hard questions, pace themselves, and not panic if they are not the first one done. In the area of test preparation, they learned to take good notes, review notes, schedule time for longer review, organize their notes, texts, and assignments, draw up schedules, and test themselves. They also learned the five R’s for note-taking during lectures: “record, reduce, recite, reflect, and review.â€

Then they learned how to take notes from a textbook and from the Internet. For example, I presented the following steps: “Read the contents without taking notes. Review the text, writing down the main ideas. Write paraphrased ideas but do not copy text and add only enough detail to understandâ€. The students also learned how to be organized for a test. They learned to begin reviewing early, conduct short daily reviews, read text assignments before lectures, review notes after lecture, review with a group, conduct major review before the day of test, and study the most difficult material when alert.

I also taught them how to anticipate test material (University of St. Thomas, 2003). They were to pay attention to study guides, ask the teacher what to anticipate on the test, pay attention prior to the exam, generate a list of possible questions, review previous tests, confer with other students, and pay attention to teacher clues. Other areas included how to memorize, thinking aloud, and what to look for on specific kinds of tests like multiple choice, or true/false, or short answer (University of St. Thomas, 2003). After teaching the second Excel unit, students used study skills to prepare for the test. Average test results were: 93% on true/false items, 90% on multiple choice items, and 71% on sentence completion items. The overall test average was an 85%.

The students practiced Relaxation exercises so they could use them during the third Excel test to increase performance (University of Texas at Austin, 2002). Some of the relaxation techniques made the students laugh. For example, one exercise has them grab their left shoulder with their right hand and repeat on the other side. Another has them lacing their fingers together, putting them behind their neck while bringing the elbows backward and raising one knee to the face. As adolescents they found these just a bit disconcerting, so we practiced slow and rhythmic breathing exercises (University of Texas at Austin, 2002). Upon completing the relaxation exercises, average test results were 97% on true/false items, 91% on multiple choice items, and 61% on sentence completion items. The overall test average was an 83%.

Finally, I provided a tutorial that covered the fourth Excel unit. Students did the tutorial as I walked around the room answering questions. The average test results were 78% on true/false items, 79% on multiple choice items, and 75% on sentence completion items. The overall test average was a 77%.

Conclusion

To help students increase performance on computerized tests, I will continue to use Direct Instruction and teach them study skills. Obviously scores increase when students know the material, and I found that students know the material better when the instructor uses Direct Instruction to cover the material thoroughly. Likewise, I will continue to teach the study skill methods and show my students how to use these techniques for exams.

References

Association For Direct Instruction, What is Direct Instruction?. Retrieved January 3, 2003.

Society For Technical Communication, Designing Tutorials that you teach. Retrieved January 3, 2003.

University of St. Thomas, Study Guides and Strategies. Retrieved January 3, 2003.

University of Texas at Austin, Relaxation Exercises. Retrieved December 16, 2003.

Karla Ludemann

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