Ten tips on reducing test anxiety for online test-takers

Picture of lady biting her nailsJohn Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

I’ve been reading about test anxiety (concern or worry by participants sufficiently severe that it impacts test performance). I’d like to share some tips on how online assessment sponsors can reduce its likelihood.

When creating and delivering tests, you seek to accurately measure knowledge, skills or abilities. Often you want to check competence or mastery for workplace or compliance reasons. If some of your participants have severe test anxiety, this doesn’t just disrupt them, it makes your test less accurate in measuring real performance. You might end up failing someone who is competent, just because anxiety affects their test performance.

Many studies (for example here) report that online tests cause less test anxiety than paper ones. Here are some suggestions on reducing test anxiety:

1. Some people have anxiety about a test because they haven’t mastered the subject being tested. Provide a clear description of what each test covers before the time of the test, and provide study resources or instruction to allow people to master the subject.

2. Test anxiety can also feed on unknowns, for instance on unfamiliarity with the test or believing untrue myths. Share information about the test’s purpose and what you do to make it fair. Also share information about the content: how many questions, how the scoring works, how much time is available and so on. Explain what happens if someone fails – for instance is it possible to retake?

3. It’s hugely valuable to provide practice tests that participants can try out before the real test. This will tell them where they are strong and weak and allow them to gain confidence in a less stressful environment prior to the real test. See my article 10 reasons why practice tests help make perfect exams for other reasons why practice tests are useful.

4. Give participants an opportunity to practice using the same type of computer, mouse, keyboard and user interface as will be used for the real test. This familiarizes them with the test environment and reduces potential anxiety, particularly for those who are less computer literate. If you are using Questionmark to deliver the test, make practice sessions available with the same template settings and the same types of questions. (Sometimes this is done with a fun quiz on a different topic, just to get people accustomed to the user interface.)

5. If you provide guidance to test-takers, point to self-help resources for people who have test anxiety. ETS provide a good resource here for instance. Another resource from the University of California is here.

6. Some self-help resources suggest breathing exercises or other exercises people can follow to reduce tension for people who are anxious about tests. Provide an environment where this is practical and train your test administrators and proctors about the prevalence of test anxiety.

7. If you have a way of encouraging test takers to sleep, take exercise and eat healthily, all these things aid a rational approach to taking a test and reducing anxiety.

8. If it works in your programme, consider whether it’s worth having a series of tests rather than a single test, so there is not a single “make or break” moment for participants. A series of tests can have other benefits too. It makes cheating harder, and by spreading out learning and revision, it can make participants retain the learning better.

9. People with disabilities are more likely to suffer test anxiety. Ensure that your program of accommodations takes this into account. See this helpful article on reducing test anxiety for people with disabilities.

10. Above all, create good quality, fair tests. If you follow good practice in authoring your questions and assessments, then there is less to be anxious about, as the test will be a good measure of performance. See Questionmark’s white paper “Five Steps to Better Tests” for some helpful advice in creating tests.

Many Questionmark users provide very effective practice quizzes and tests which help reduce test anxiety, and I hope these tips are helpful, too.

I’d love to hear additional input or suggestions.

2 Responses to “Ten tips on reducing test anxiety for online test-takers”

  1. John Kleeman says:

    Another good resource on test anxiety is at http://careertechtesting.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/test-anxiety.html

  2. Great advice John! Test anxiety is an issue and it can be difficult to rectify the problems from the online assessment sponsor’s point of view. Many people will lose sleep the night before, which will affect their brain function and may result in a poorer performance. It’s just important for the test to be as straightforward and self explanatory as possible to help the person taking the test

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