The Decrease in Test Anxiety with Online Learning During the Pandemic  

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Written By: Marissa Sweger

Did you feel stressed, anxious, or hopeless the last time you took an exam before, during, or after it? If you answered yes, then you might have test anxiety. Test anxiety is a severe version of these feelings when taking an exam. It is very common among college students. As college students, we take multiple classes while having other obligations that take up our time. These things can stop you from properly studying or adding extra stress. You or someone you know will probably face anxiety over taking an exam in your collegiate career.

I’ve always had severe test anxiety. From elementary school to now, as a junior in college, I find myself afraid of taking exams. When I take an exam, I feel like I jumped into ice water. I feel frozen. My mind goes blank, my heart races, and my palms sweat. I get nervous just at the thought of taking a test. These are the feelings I went through when I had to take an in-person exam, but during the pandemic, I noticed that my test anxiety decreased when taking exams online.

The study “Why Did Students Report Lower Test Anxiety during the COVID-19 Pandemic?” by Ewell Sharday, Chloe Josefson, and Cissy Ballen collected data from 691 students to examine how test anxiety affected college students’ scores when taking exams online during the pandemic. Quantitative analyses revealed trait and state (post-exam) test anxiety was lower in the Spring of 2020 (during Covid) than in the Spring of 2019. It also revealed while test anxiety was going down, priorities shifted away from coursework.

So why did we see decreased test anxiety during the pandemic? The study hypothesized that anxiety levels dropped due to how students prepared for exams during the pandemic. The results showed that some students struggled with their learning due to the sudden switch to the online environment and a lack of in-person communication, while others improved by these new methods. It found that anxiety dropped quite a bit after the second exam, but by the third exam, it went back up. These results are because of two things: competence beliefs and competing priorities.

Lower beliefs of one’s competence can cause higher levels of test anxiety, and higher beliefs can cause lower test anxiety. If students believe they are well prepared for an exam, they are likelier to do better than someone with a negative belief in their competence.

The change to online learning was a big one for most people. Along with learning how to navigate online courses, they also had to worry about financial security and family matters. This competition of priorities leads to time being taken away from their coursework, thus leading to unpreparedness and test anxiety.

While the way I studied changed during the pandemic, I was used to doing school online classes. I had taken some virtual courses at community college. Those virtual classes prepared me for the transition during the pandemic and helped me understand what study methods worked for me. Another thing that helped was taking my exams in a room by myself. Knowing that everyone around me is finishing their exam makes me think I should finish mine faster so I’m not the last one done. Research has taught me some good coping skills to help with my test anxiety.

There are many resources available to help cope with test anxiety. Whether that be learning efficient study habits, getting help from a tutor or professor, or even getting more sleep. You could try focusing on positive thoughts and affirmations before you take your exam. I eat sour candy before an exam because my therapist told me that eating something sour is a good distraction technique for anxiety. Refrain from exhausting yourself with studying. Take a break occasionally, and do something fun like phone a friend or watch an episode of your favorite show. You might never completely get rid of your test anxiety, but you can manage it.