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Bulletin of Education and Research
December 2010, Vol. 32, No. 2 pp. 63- 74
The Relationship between Test Anxiety and
Rizwan Akram Rana* & Nasir Mahmood*
The major aim of this research study was to explore the relationship between test
anxiety and academic achievement of students at the post graduate level. A sample of 414
students was randomly selected from seven different science departments in a public
sector university in Lahore, Pakistan. Data were collected by using the Test Anxiety
Inventory (TAI) developed by Spielberger. Pearson correlation, multivariate statistics and
regression analyses were run for data analysis. It was found that a significant negative
relationship exists between test anxiety scores and students’ achievement scores. Results
showed that a cognitive factor (worry) contributes more in test anxiety than affective
factors (emotional). Therefore, it is concluded that test anxiety is one of the factors
which are responsible for students’ underachievement and low performance but it can be
managed by appropriate training of students in dealing with factors causing test anxiety.
Tests and examinations at all stages of education, especially at higher
education level have been considered an important and powerful tool for
decision making in our competitive society, with people of all ages being
evaluated with respect to their achievement, skills and abilities. Zollar and
Ben-chain (1990) have the opinion that “the era in which we live is a test-
conscious age in which the lives of many people are not only greatly
influenced, but are also determined by their test performance”. Test and
examination stress is thought to prevent some individuals from reaching
their academic potential. It has been found that students consistently
perceive examination as a source of increase in anxiety and a situation
engulfed with uncertainty/unfairness in letting them demonstrate their true
achievements (Zollar & Ben-chain, 1990; Spielberger, 1985). Such feelings
among students’ limit their potential performance during the test situation,
resulting in higher text anxiety (Hill & Wigfield, 1984) directly causing drop
in the student achievement. Therefore, it can be seen as a measurement error
towards measuring student achievement as tests are not meant to measure
student achievement under intimidating situation but to know their level of
*IER, University of the Punjab, Lahore – Pakistan
Relationship between Test Anxiety and Academic Achievement 64
achievement in an environment fair enough to let them demonstrate their
abilities to the fullest. The researchers have suggested various means to
minimize test anxiety with managing external factors like environment of
examination hall; behaviour of examiners etc. internal factors like
organization of questions in a test, sufficient description of the context,
clarity in instruction for students etc. Despite these measures to minimize
test anxiety it is generally agreed that it has become most upsetting and a
disruptive factor for students. There are number of researches reporting text
anxiety as one of the major cause for students’ underachievement and low
performances at different levels of their educational life (Oludipe, 2009) and
has been shown to affect students’ ability to profit from instruction
It is worth discussing some studies showing the statistically significant
inverse relationship between test anxiety and students’ achievement since
long time. Gaudry and Spielberger (1971) discussed that high test anxiety is
considered as one of the main factor for low performance of students at
university level. A study conducted by Nicholson (2009) to explore the
effects of test anxiety on student achievement of grade 11 students, revealed
that anxiety and achievement are related to each other. Khalid and Hasan
(2009) conducted a study on a purposively selected sample of 187
undergraduate students to explore the relationship between test anxiety and
academic achievement and found that students with academic achievement
have low test anxiety scores and vice versa. Chapell, Blanding, Takahashi,
Silverstein, Newman, Gubi, and McCann (2005) conducted a research study
to explore the relationship between test anxiety and academic performance.
They collected data from a large sample of graduate and undergraduate
students and found a significant and negative relationship between test
anxiety and academic achievement.
Hancock (2001) investigated the effects of students’ test anxiety and
teacher’s evaluation practices on students’ achievement and motivation at
post the secondary level. He found statistically significant results which
revealed that all students, especially students with high anxiety level,
performed poorly and were less motivated to learn. Thus he concluded that
that when students who are particularly test-anxious are exposed to a highly
evaluative assessment environment in their educational institution, they
perform poorly and are less motivated to perform (Hancock, 2001). A
research study conducted by Cassady & Johnson (2002) “to investigate the
effect of cognitive test anxiety on students’ academic performance and
found that cognitive test anxiety exerts a significant stable and negative
impact on academic performance measures”.. Albero, Brown, Eliason &
Wind (1997), on the basis of their research study, concluded that students
having high test anxiety had significantly lower scores. Oludipe (2009)
conducted a study to explore how test anxiety affects students’ performance
levels in the sciences, especially in Physics, and concluded that “low test-
Rizwan & Nasir 65
anxious students performed better than high test-anxious students on both
numerical and non-numerical tasks in Physics”. On the other hand,
Schonwetter, (1995) by relating this phenomenon to classroom instruction,
the researchers further discussed “how high test- anxious students were
unable to benefit directly from organized instruction, which ultimately
affected their performance in class”.
Several researchers explored gender differences with respect to test
anxiety and found that females have higher levels of overall test anxiety than
males (Chapell et al., 2005; Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Bandalos et al., 1995;
Mwamwenda, 1994). Cassady & Johnson, (2002) explained “that one
explanation for differences in test anxiety on the basis of students’ gender is
that males and females feel same levels of test worry, but females have
higher levels of emotionality”. Zeidner (1990), on the basis of his research,
concluded that difference in test anxiety scores of male and female is due to
gender difference in scholastic ability.
It is quite evident from the arguments given above and results of the
studies reported that text anxiety affects achievement along with other
variables such as motivation to learn, ability to benefit from formal
instruction and gender. This diversification of effects of text anxiety lead
researchers to think of text anxiety as at least bi-dimensional construct (Berk
& Nanda, 2006; Chapell et al., 2005; Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Diaz, 2001)
with affective and cognitive components. The affective dimension
(emotionality) refers to behavioural or physical reactions to testing
situations, such as fear, nervousness, and physical discomfort (Hanckock,
2001; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996; Williams, 1994). This high level of
emotionality is evident through physiological responses experienced during
evaluative situations (Cassady & Johnson, 2002). The cognitive dimension
(worry) refers to cognitive concerns about performance, such as worry about
the testing situation or negative performance expectations (Humbree, 1988;
Morris, Davis, & Hutchings, 1981; Depreeuw, 1984) .It is the cognitive
aspect of test anxiety which has been significantly accounted for declines in
academic achievement of adolescents and postsecondary students (Bandlos,
Yates, & Thorndike-Christ, 1995; Williams, 1991; Humbree, 1981).
The discussion above has intrigued researchers to investigate text
anxiety as a contributing factor in student achievement among Pakistani
students in institutions of higher education as it is generally perceive that
institutions of higher education in Pakistan have very rigid system of
tests/examination having high stakes in students’ academic career. The study
addressed following questions to pursue the above stated broader objective.
1. Determine the relationship between the Test Anxiety total scale
scores and academic achievement scores of students in different
Relationship between Test Anxiety and Academic Achievement 66
2. Determine the relationship between the Test Anxiety Emotional
scale scores and academic achievement scores of students in
different science subjects.
3. Determine the relationship between the Test Anxiety Worry scale
scores and academic achievement scores of students in different
This study being a descriptive in nature utilized survey techniques.
This section will describe sample, research instrument and procedure of the
Seven departments were randomly selected from the science faculty
of a public sector university in Lahore, Pakistan. From each selected
department; intact classes were used in the sample. As a result, sample
comprised of 414 randomly selected post graduate students (Male = 116,
Female = 298). The detail distribution of sample is given in table 1.
Detail of sample of the study
Number of Students Department
Male Female Total
Environmental Sciences 8 20 28
Geology 24 02 26
Mathematics 16 54 70
Physics 36 26 62
Science Education 10 47 57
Statistics 22 80 102
Zoology 0 69 69
Total 116 298 414
There are several instruments developed by various authors for
measuring test anxiety but they all use text anxiety as unitary construct. Thus
they insist on finding a unitary number representing text anxiety level of
students. As mentioned earlier in this paper that this research is based on
assumption that test anxiety is at least bi-dimensional construct comprising
of emotionality and worry scale. Thus, researchers preferred using Test
Anxiety Inventory (TAI) to capture the bi-dimensionality of the selected
construct. The same argument is put forward by the Smith (2000) while
using this instrument for his study. He compared different test anxiety scales
(Test anxiety scale by Sarason, 1978; Test anxiety questionnaire by Mandler
Rizwan & Nasir 67
& Sarson, 1952; and the State-trait anxiety inventory by Spielberger,
Gorsuch, & Luschene, 1970) to conclude that they yield global test anxiety
scores that combine components, emotionality and worry, of test scores”.
Whereas, as discussed above, researchers considered test anxiety, a bi-
dimensional construct, and when someone intends to study the influence of
test anxiety on academic achievement, it is necessary to study both
components of test anxiety because of the fact that these both factors are
related to academic performance (Berk & Nanda, 2006; Chapell et al., 2005;
Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Hanckock, 2001; Smith, 2000; Pintrich &
Schunk, 1996; Bandlos, Yates, & Thorndike-Christ, 1995; Williams, 1994;
Williams, 1991, & Humbree, 1981).
Description of sub-constructs, their scope, number of items, example items
and reliability of research instrument
Sub-construct Scope No of
Example item 1Reliability
Emotionality Behavioural or
physical reactions to
such as fear,
0.85 to 0.91
Worry Cognitive concerns
such as worry about
the testing situation
6. The harder
I work at
taking a test
0.83 to 0.91
TAI total General feeling about
the test anxiety in
addition to items
already included in
worry scale. The Test
TAI total score.
tests I am so
tense that my
0.92 to 0.96
1as reported in other
2as reported found in
*There were four items in the scale not
included in any sub-construct but were
part of the Total score.
Chapell, Blanding, Takahashi, Silverstein, Newman, Gubi, and McCann
(2005) reported that test anxiety inventory is extensively used to explore
students test anxiety at different levels of education all over the world. Table
2 shows that TAI comprised of 20 Likert Scale type self-report items (Four
point scale: indicating from “Almost never” to “Almost always”) which are
designed by its author (Spielberger, 1980) to measure test anxiety
symptoms. The scale is further divided into two subscales: Worry Scale (8
items), and Emotional Scale (8 items). Cronbach alpha (α) reliability
Relationship between Test Anxiety and Academic Achievement 68
coefficient reported for total scale (TAI-Total) ranged from 0.92 to 0.96 and
for its two sub-scales: Worry scale (0.83 to 0.91) and Emotional scale (0.85
to 0.91). For present study, the Cronbach Alpha (α) for total scale was 0.868,
while the reliability for emotional scale items was 0.767 and for worry scale
items was 0.720. The difference in the reliability found in other studies and
present study is due do difference in sample size as reliability is directly
proportional to number of subjects in sample. Despite difference in
reliability on each sub-scale the values of alpha (α) are reasonably high and
To collect information about demographic variables, a Demographic
Variables Information Proforma was developed by the researchers. It was
comprised of information regarding a student’s gender, department, semester
and achievement scores (Achievement scores were verified by the officials
of concerned departments).
Procedure of Data Collection
The data was collected personally by the researchers with prior
arrangement with the department concerned and teachers. Intact classes were
used for this purpose. To avoid any measurement related error,
standardization of procedure was insured by giving uniform instruction to
students, each time the data was collected. Similar instruction, environment,
and execution timing was provided to students in each department during
data collection. The consent of the participants, privacy of information
collected and other ethical sureties were provided to the participants.
Analysis and Interpretation of Data
Data were analysed by using SPSS-15 Software Package.
Descriptive statistics in table 3 were to provide an understanding of the
dimensions of data while inferential analysis focused on finding the
relationship of emotionality scale, worry scale and TAI total score with
student achievement as described in research questions.
Table 3 exhibited the descriptive values for Emotionality scale scores,
Worry scale scores, Total test anxiety scale scores and achievement scores
for male and female students in different departments. It is evident from
table that for emotionality component, mean value is ranging between a
minimum of 15.36 for male students of department of Statistics to a
maximum of 20.00 for female students studying in department of
Mathematics. Similarly, female students of department of Statistics possess a
minimum mean score of 16.16 on worry aspect of test anxiety to a maximum
of 20.31 for male students of Mathematics department.
Rizwan & Nasir 69
Descriptive statistics by department, gender, test anxiety sub-scales and
Emotionality Worry Total TA Achievement Department/ Gender
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Male 19.94 6.38 20.31 6.15 49.06 14.43 63.42 10.68 Mathematics
Female 20.00 6.55 20.18 6.01 48.94 14.21 63.54 10.31
Male 17.19 4.84 17.47 4.87 42.86 10.39 68.49 9.28 Physics
Female 16.92 4.71 17.34 4.87 42.57 10.44 68.80 9.30
Male 15.36 4.38 16.27 4.74 38.91 10.75 69.68 8.56 Statistics
Female 15.32 3.99 16.16 4.60 40.62 10.84 70.43 8.66
Male 15.29 4.05 16.45 4.08 44.41 9.91 68.86 5.52 Geology
Female 16.00 1.41 19.50 0.70 40.00 5.65 73.66 10.37
Male - - - - - - - - Zoology
Female 17.13 4.64 18.05 4.35 43.57 7.44 69.48 7.13
Male 16.37 2.72 17.12 2.16 40.12 5.74 73.00 6.27 Environmental
Science Female 17.55 3.92 18.85 4.59 41.95 9.29 69.80 7.78
Male 15.50 1.58 16.80 1.22 41.50 10.38 71.00 3.16 IER
Female 16.49 4.13 16.65 3.05 42.68 9.34 66.88 5.60
On total test anxiety scale scores, the mean value is ranging between a
minimum of 38.91 for male students of department of Statistics to a
maximum mean score of 49.06 for male students of department of
Mathematics. With respect to students achievement scores, male students of
department of Mathematics are at lowest level (mean=63.42) to a maximum
of 73.66 for female students of Institute of Geology.
Relationship between students’ achievement scores and scores on test
anxiety scale (Total scale, Worry Scale and Emotional scale)
Aspect N Pearson r Significance
Total scale scores and achievement scores 414 - 0.653* 0.000
Worry scale scores and achievement scores 414 - 0.694* 0.000
Emotional scale scores and achievement scores 414 - 0.663* 0.000
It is evident from table 4 that a strong negative and significant
relationship exists between students’ achievement scores and Total scale
scores as well as on subscales scores. It is also found that achievements is
significantly inversely related to both emotional and worry scales as well.
The magnitude of the relationship is slightly higher on worry scale as
compared to emotionality scale and total score. The range of relationship of
each scale is more than 65% which is quite strong in magnitude. This
stronger relationship encouraged to further analysis to explore the possibility
of test anxiety as a predictor of students’ achievement. Therefore, a
Regression analysis was run to explore the cause- effect relationship
between achievement scores and test anxiety scale scores. The result is given
in table 5.
Relationship between Test Anxiety and Academic Achievement 70
Model β t-value Significance Model R square
Total anxiety scale scores -0.251 -0.6.700 0.000
Worry scale scores -0.697 -0 4.160 0.000
Emotional scale scores -0.140 -0.890 0.374
Table 5 shows that 53% of variance is explained by the regression
model which shows that test anxiety affects students’ achievement. It is
further evident from the table that the worry scales scores are the major
contributor with respect to the difference in students’ achievement scores.
Effect of gender on sub-scales of test anxiety
Test Value Hypoth. df F Significance
Wilk’ Lambda 0.874 2.000 29.567 0.000
Univariate F –Tests
Variable df F Significance
Emotional sub-scale 1 29.569 0.000
Worry sub-scale 1 0.085 0.771
It is evident from table 6 that F-value (29,567, df = 2.000, p=0.000) is
significant both for multivariate test and also for univariate dimension on
emotionality component on the basis of students’ gender. However, for
worry aspect of test anxiety scale, the difference between male and female
students is not significant.
Conclusion and Discussion
Keeping in view the focus of the study to find the relative relationship of
student achievement with affective and cognitive factors of test anxiety, the
results revealed that cognitive factors (worry scale) are pivotal in generating
anxiety in students more that affective (emotionality) factors. This finding
was of interest as it is in line with the findings of the studies reported in
literature (Chapell et al., 2005; Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Birenbaum &
Nasser, 1994) and it diminishes the assumption that test anxiety is a function
of the stakes involved in a test score. It was assumed that tests in Pakistani
higher education institutions were more structured and rigid in structure,
thus causing greater test anxiety as compared to students in countries where
exams/test formats are relatively flexible. The students feel equally anxious
with every test they are asked to take.
Moreover, it is reiterated through these results that pressure of scoring
high on tests, fear of passing a course, consequences of failing in test and
incompatibility of preparation for test and demand of test were the reason for
Rizwan & Nasir 71
cognitive text anxiety. This showed the complexity of thinking process
student go through while preparing for tests. This increases as they think
more into the consequences or implication related to the achievement in
tests. Worrying about a test cannot be regarded as negative phenomenon as a
certain level of anxiety contributes positively in successful performance of a
test but it accumulates into a negative force when student enters into a
cyclic, non-productive process of speculating outcomes based on
consequences of the test scores. It is possible to guide students to avoid
getting indulged into thinking cycle letting anxiety take over their actions.
Teachers, parents and peers can be considerable help for students to keep
them motivated to perform better without unnecessarily letting the
anticipated consequences of failure taking over the positive force bringing
performance of student compatible with their abilities and skills.
Although cognitive aspects are seen as greater reason of text anxiety but
emotional (affective) factors also contribute reasonably. The feeling student
experience on or before the text also make him/her anxious. As students
have reported that they feel uneasy, upset, nervous, tense and panic. These
feelings arise irrespective of the extent of preparation of examination on the
part of the student; therefore, can be assumed as not specific to tests, but
anxiety we all experience during any unseen endeavour of life we go
through. Students can be trained to minimize affective test anxiety by
providing opportunities to handle unforeseen problem situations and letting
them experience test situation more often.
It is evident that feelings (affective) and worry (cognitive) related
anxiety are sources of drop in student achievement. Student achievement can
be improved by training/educating students about handling stress situations
in academic life. If students can manage their emotional anxiety it can assist
in improved achievement. Academic programmes in institution of higher
education should also focus on grooming students in skills to stabilize their
emotional response to potentially difficult situations like tests. The faculty
can benefit from popularly used techniques to handle both cognitive and
emotional anxiety among students.
Erbe (2007), Berk & Nanda (2006), Stober (2004), Haris & Coy (2003),
Foster, Paulk, & Dastoor (1999), Kondo (1996), and Serok (1991) discussed
various measures and strategies which can be applied by faculty members to
reduce test anxiety among their students. The strategies which can be
contextually relevant and useful for teachers in Pakistan can be; task
orientation and preparation, positive thinking, seeking social support,
avoidance, relaxation training, coaching/ guided imagery, self-instructional
training, establishing purpose, affirmation, modalities, positive Anchors,
mental simulations, use of humour, preparation of cheat sheet and study
To summarize this discussion, it is concluded that we live in a test-
taking society and that when students are anxious before and during tests,
Relationship between Test Anxiety and Academic Achievement 72
test anxiety has a significant and effective impact on their performance. To
effectively manage test anxiety, students can be helped by teachers, parents
and educational administrators through use of cognitive, affective and
behavioral strategies. It is further suggested that the students should be fully
informed by the faculty and administration of departments about the nature
of courses, duration of the semester, and level of commitment necessary for
the successful completion of the course. The students with higher test
anxiety must be identified and treated in order to increase their academic
We would like to thank the Higher Education Commission (HEC),
Government of Pakistan, for its full support and funding to conduct this
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