How can I reduce students’ anxiety around exams and assessments?
Anxiety has been shown to negatively impact some students’ performance on assessments, particularly high-stakes exams (Chapell, 2005). Exam anxiety may affect different student populations differently, for example some studies have shown that women are more negatively impacted by anxiety than men (Harris, 2019).
When designing assessments, you may want to ask yourself:
Am I introducing unnecessary stress and anxiety for students with my assessments?
Following are general strategies that focus on eliminating, reducing, or modifying high stakes testing in an effort to reduce student anxiety.
Eliminate high stakes testing
Where possible, use alternate forms of assessment to determine student learning. These can include:
- Problem sets
- Writing assignments
- Contribution to discussion forums
- Individual or team project
Reduce high stakes testing
The principle behind this strategy is to lower the impact of each exam score. Examples:
- Add lower stakes quizzing or other assignments to the course grade total.
- Consider dropping the lowest exam score or 1 or 2 lowest quiz scores.
Modify high-stakes testing
Create conditions that make high-stakes exams less stressful for students. Options to consider:
- Allow open notes for an examination.
- Allow students to retake assessments for partial or full points or perhaps an unlimited number of times (if automatically graded) until they receive a passing score.
- Use collaborative or group exams. Research on collaborative exams have found that they can enhance student learning and reduce student test-taking anxiety (Pandey, 2011).
- Allow adequate time for timed assessments. (To approximate timing, take the exam yourself with a timer, fully writing out all answers and responses, then multiply that time by 3-4).
- Allow students to choose when they take online timed assessments, say within a 24-hour period.
In this video, a faculty member describes his experience using collaborative exams in his teaching.
- Hsu, J.L., & Goldsmith, G.R. (2021). Instructor Strategies to Alleviate Stress and Anxiety among College and University STEM Students. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 20 (1), 1 – 13. doi.org/10.1187/cbe.20-08-0189.
- Chapell, M. S., Blanding, Z. B., Silverstein, M. E., Takahashi, M., Newman, B., Gubi, A., & McCann, N. (2005). Test Anxiety and Academic Performance in Undergraduate and Graduate Students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 268-274. doi:10.1037/0022-0618.104.22.168.