Test anxiety is characterized by a fear of negative evaluation, specifically in academic domains. This evaluative fear is often driven by social concerns that are consistent with those that are found in individuals with social phobia. The current study was designed to determine if test anxiety is a type of specific social phobia. 57 subjects completed a battery of self-report measures, underwent a semi-structured interview, and participated in a behavioral assessment task. Results showed that test anxious individuals were similar to socially phobic individuals in personality characteristics, in subjective ratings of anxiety as well as in the prevalence of feared situations. However, despite these similarities test anxious individuals did not show significant functional impairment during the behavioral assessment task as evaluated through level of performance, number of negative cognitions, and psychophysiological reactivity. Based on these results, test anxiety cannot be considered a type of specific social phobia.
A number of studies have examined whether test anxiety manifests itself differently depending on a persons age, gender, and race/ethnicity. These studies show that in general, test anxiety increases with age until college at which point it begins to decline (Hembree, 1988; McDonald, 2001; Zeidner, 1998). In Hembree’s 1998 metaanalytic study of test anxiety, students in early elementary school experienced small levels of test anxiety. However, there was a sharp increase in grades 3-5. He also found that rates of test anxiety remained fairly constant during the high school years and declined in college. In two longitudinal studies conducted by Sarason and colleagues, consistent elevations in test anxiety were found throughout elementary school using the TASC (Sarason et al., 1965; Hill & Sarason, 1966). Manley and Rosemire (1972) found that junior high school students experienced higher levels of test anxiety than their senior high school counterparts as measured by the TASC.
College students with test anxiety were assessed to determine whether their symptoms were similar to those exhibited by other individuals with specific social phobias. To make this determination, characteristics of both test anxious and non-test anxious populations were evaluated. This evaluation allowed for further comparisons of overall symptomatology across established characteristics of phobias.
Six specific domains were examined based on identified characteristics of impairment in phobic individuals:
(1) feared situations,
(2) depressive mood states,
(4) subjective anxiety,
(5) negative cognitions, and
Based on past findings, it was expected that individuals with test anxiety would exhibit characteristics of individuals with phobias, including marked avoidance when possible and increased arousal when faced with an anxiety-provoking situation. Given the expectation of increased arousal, it also was hypothesized that those with test anxiety would not perform as well as controls on the behavioral assessment task. Furthermore, it was predicted that the severity of social phobia symptoms would be positively correlated with the presence of test anxiety. In addition, the relationship between test anxiety and other co-occurring disorders was investigated with the expectation that individuals with test anxiety would have a higher prevalence rate of co-occurring psychiatric disorders as compared to their non-test anxious counterparts.
Students taking introductory psychology courses at the University of Maryland- College Park were recruited for this study through the departmental subject pool using the Experimetrix web enrollment. Each student who qualified for this study received class credit for his or her participation. A total of 60 students were selected to participate based on their self-report of test anxiety, (29 individuals with test anxiety and 31 without test anxiety). The Test Anxiety Inventory (TAI; Spielberger, 1980) was used to screen for test anxiety. Previously established cutoff scores, males: TA = 50, C = 26; females: TA = 56, C = 28 (Spielberger, 1980), were applied to make this distinction. For this study the mean scores for both the test anxious population and the non-test anxious population were as follows: males TA = 57.35 (5.00), C = 23.21 (1.85); females TA = 61.78 (3.63), C = 24.00 (1.90). Once selected, each participant was asked to read and sign an informed consent form that outlined the risks and benefits of the study. After consent was obtained, each participant underwent a computerized diagnostic assessment, filled out self-report measures, and completed a behavioral assessment task in randomized order.
The SPAI was used to measure social phobia symptoms. The SPAI has high test-retest reliability, differentiates social phobics from normal controls and other anxiety patients (Turner et al., 1996), has adequate concurrent and external validity (Beidel et al., 1989a; 1989b), and is one of the few self-report measures of social phobia that has been shown to reflect both statistically reliable and clinically significant change as a result of treatment
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Liebert, R. & Morris, L. (1967). Cognitive and emotional components of test anxiety: A distinction and some initial data. Psychological Reports, 20, 975-978.
Manley, J., & Rosemier, R. (1972). Developmental trends in general and test anxiety among junior and senior high school students. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 120, 219-226.
Dissertation Done by Tyish S. Hall, University of Maryland