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Test anxiety comes as an irrefutable fact of education. Testing and being tested, whatever the level of education, is a natural source of concern. The intention of this study is to obtain data that will be the starting point for future intervention programs for test-anxiety. For the research, 10 middle school students and 10 high school students and semi-structured interview forms were interviewed. It has been seen that middle school students describe test anxiety with emotional symptoms and high school students with cognitive symptoms. While the anxiety of the test anxiety affects the life of the students and the influence of the family relations in the high school students is in the preliminary stage, the middle school students show themselves as negative thoughts about the future and the negative affect appears as a common theme in both groups. As sources of test anxiety, we see parents' and teachers' higher success expectations in both age groups. Besides, the words that parents' and teachers' motivational words the students cause them to worry more about not being the anticipated effect in the students. These negative attitudes cause a sense of over responsibility in students. According to the findings of the study, it is revealed that it is a great necessity for the parents and teachers to be involved in the intervention programs for the students who are experiencing the test anxiety.
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Sources of Test Anxiety: A Qualitative Approach
1
Atılgan Erözkan
2
Uğur Doğan2* Arca Adıgüzel2
* E-mail of the corresponding author: ugurdogan@mu.edu.tr
Abstract
Test anxiety comes as an irrefutable fact of education. Testing and being tested, whatever the level of
education, is a natural source of concern. The intention of this study is to obtain data that will be the
starting point for future intervention programs for test-anxiety. For the research, 10 middle school students
and 10 high school students and semi-structured interview forms were interviewed. It has been seen that
middle school students describe test anxiety with emotional symptoms and high school students with
cognitive symptoms. While the anxiety of the test anxiety affects the life of the students and the influence
of the family relations in the high school students is in the preliminary stage, the middle school students
show themselves as negative thoughts about the future and the negative affect appears as a common theme
in both groups. As sources of test anxiety, we see parents’ and teachers’ higher success expectations in both
age groups. Besides, the words that parents’ and teachers’ motivational words the students cause them to
worry more about not being the anticipated effect in the students. These negative attitudes cause a sense of
over responsibility in students. According to the findings of the study, it is revealed that it is a great
necessity for the parents and teachers to be involved in the intervention programs for the students who are
experiencing the test anxiety.
Keywords: Text anxiety, high school students, secondary school students, source of text anxiety, qualitative
research
1. Introduction
Anxiety is uneasiness experienced by an individual due to his/her self or surroundings in his/her
conscious or unconscious and caused by the effort of the suppressed material which is causing imbalance to
go back to the conscious level (Dinçmen, 2004). Whereas Ellis (1994) defined anxiety as the unsettling
emotional situation which arouses the sense of weakness against an anticipated danger, according to
Spielberger (1966), individuals affinity to interpret the stimuli around within their personal threat
framework underlies anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling caused by a possibility of danger stemming from inner or outer world or
individuals’ perception or interpretation of such a possibility. During anxiety, the individual feels alarmed
and like something bad is going to happen (Taşğın, Tekin & Altınok, 2007). According to Sarason (1988),
anxiety expresses the feelings of worry, indecision, confusion, fear, pessimism and hopelessness as a
reaction exhibited by individuals where they feel insecure, therefore being likely to their physical,
emotional and social wellbeing levels (cited in Erözkan, 2011). Anxiety is a situation in which feelings of
distress, worry and oppression as well as certain physical reactions occur in the face of cases where the
individual feels threatened. Experienced by everyone from time to time and accepted as a normal situation,
anxiety can sometimes become severe, turning into a pathological situation. It is known that anxiety may
occur in every period of life and several situations can increase the frequency and strength of anxiety.
Adolescence is one of the periods during which anxiety is observed the most (Günay, Öncel, Erdoğan,
Güneri, Tendoğan & Uğur, 2008; cited in Erözkan, 2011).
Spielberger (1972) explained the anxiety with the model of state anxiety and trait anxiety. State
anxiety is caused by how an individual perceives the current situation as being threatening and dangerous;
it is seen that uneasiness is mitigated with the removal of threatening and dangerous situations. Trait
anxiety is a personality trait that cannot be directly interpreted in accordance with the situation experienced
by the individual but describes individuals affinity to experience anxiety. While state anxiety involves a
temporary danger or stress situation, trait anxiety refers to the tendency to feel a danger even in neutral
situations and breaks the coherence of individual when observed on an elevated level (Öner & LeCompte,
1985). State of anxiety felt when a student takes a test or before an athlete competes can be an example of
state anxiety. In individuals with high trait anxiety, symptoms such as disruption of behaviours, perception
and attention disorders, decreased academic achievement, avoidance from interpersonal relations and
introversion may occur (Özyürek & Demiray, 2010).
Kashani and Orvaschel (1990) stated that the most negative impacts of anxiety are observed in the
domain of interpersonal relations. Reading out load, speaking before the class is difficult for anxious
1
This study was presented as an oral presentation in III. International Eurasian Educational Research Congress which was organized
between 31 May-03 June 2016.
2
Psychological Counseling and Guidance, Education Faculty, Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University, Muğla, Turkey
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children (Kendall et al., 1992). Joining a group, being present in unconstructed social environments, and
taking exams are also dangerous issues for anxious children. Such individuals are very sensitive to the
negative evaluation and investigation of them by others (Beidel & Turner, 1998).
The state of worry before the exam has a negative impact on the ability to think healthily and the
memory itself which are necessary to study effectively while obstructing a clear mind needed for success
during the exam. Getting worried during an exam is the direct indicator how unsuccessful the exam will be.
When mental sources are spent for worrying, which is a single cognitive task, there is not enough source
left to process other information (Goleman, 2003).
Spielberger (1972) defines test anxiety based on his definition of state and trait anxiety as a type of
trait anxiety that occurs specifically to the situation and argues that there is a correlation between test
anxiety and trait anxiety. According to Spielberger (1995), test anxiety is an unpleasant mood with
cognitive, affective and behavioural attributes which is experienced in a formal examination or evaluation
setting, stops individuals from putting forth their real performance and makes them nervous. Zeidner (1998)
describes test anxiety as possible negative outcomes of tests or similar evaluation situations or
phenomenological, psychological and behavioural reactions accompanied by worry about failure.
Spielberger and Vagg (1995) found that there are two aspects of test anxiety which they called worry
and emotionality. Worry is the cognitive aspect of test anxiety and involves individuals negative
self-evaluations, and negative inner talks and opinions of his/her failure and incompetence. It is a process in
which individuals believe that they cannot do what it takes during a test and cannot solve a question and
cause themselves to get distracted with negative thoughts such as What if I cannot succeed, do it?
Emotionality is the emotional aspect which stimulates the autonomous nervous system that is the
sensory-physiological part of the test anxiety. It is a process which includes physical reactions such as fast
heartrate, sweating, sweltering and feeling chilly, rash, nausea, states of anger and nervousness.
Test anxiety is a feeling which forms during childhood and has its toll gradually in later years. Tight
discipline at home, restricting parental attitudes, authoritarian educational-instructional mentality at school,
negative, cold and offending teacher criticism, punishments, low grading and challenging grade passing
conditions constitute the circumstances leading to test anxiety which develops at early ages. Frequent
school failures, negative evaluations by adults and the sense of threat for the self which such situations
revoke in individual are crucial factors in the development of test anxiety (Öner, 1989, cited in Erözkan,
2004).
Highly test-anxious individuals can happen to feel like their self-existence is threatened in the
situation of test or evaluation. Individuals having these emotions become angry and worried not only during
exams but also when they will speak within a group. Such individualsnegative thoughts of themselves can
cause them to get easily distracted (Aysan et al., 2001).
In research on how test anxiety affects academic performance, it has been observed that highly
test-anxious students fail because they perceive exams as a difficult situation, cannot concentrate on the
exam and perform poorly during the exam. It has been also observed that they cannot use their cognitive
competencies healthily as they cannot prepare for the exam enough, therefore becoming worried (Cassady,
2004).
Negative feelings are seen such as the fear of failure during the exam, sense of guilt about how student
could not study sufficiently, the thought that the time cannot be used efficiently and nothing will be
remembered, frequently focusing on the score to be achieved, feeling worthless and unsuccessful compared
to other students, and disappointing the parents as well as physiological symptoms such as nausea,
hyperactivity, and hypertension. Test anxiety is felt before, during and after tests/exams. Findings of
research investigating test anxietys effects on students show that students immune system is also
influenced by anxiety (Spangler, 1997).
This study is based on the anxieties and the underlying sources of the examination of preparation
process for university and high school entry examinations, taking advantage of the views and experiences
of senior students. The study will shed light on the development of the right strategies when preparing
students for the students, teachers, parents and school administrators. The following answers were searched
in the survey:
1. How do students describe test anxiety?
2. How does test anxiety affect studentslives?
3. What are the causes of test anxiety according to students?
2. Methodology
2.1 Research Design
The qualitative research method was adopted in this study to understand the causes of test anxiety and its
effects on students. According to Merriam (2009), qualitative research deals with 1) how people interpret
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their lives, 2) how they build their worlds, and 3) what meaning they added to their experiences. This
research adopted the qualitative research approach to determine how students perceive test anxiety, how
they are affected in this process and how they interpret the causes underlying the test anxiety. The
phenomenological design, a qualitative research design, was used. While focusing on how individuals
comprehend, describe a given phenomenon, what they feel about it, how they judge, recall and make sense
of it and what they tell others about it (Patton, 2014), the phenomenological design investigates how people
attribute meaning to their experiences with their surroundings (Mulveen & Hepworth, 2006). Is test
anxiety an individuals own subjective problem, or does the surroundings also affect this experience? is
the main hypothesis of the research. The phenomenological approach was adopted, too, so that the research
can guide future studies. Because the phenomenological approach does not try to confirm or refute the
hypotheses based on the current literature but lays a significant questioning foundation which allows for the
re-discussion and investigation of the analysis results in future studies (Sart, 2015).
2.2 Study Group
The criterion sampling method, which is a purposive sampling method, was used when choosing the
participants of the research. The purposive sampling method is used to select people who are thought to
have rich information about the situation in order to investigate a specific situation in depth (Patton, 2014).
The criterion used for choosing the participants of the research was that secondary school students took the
first stage of the high school entrance exams and would take the second stage next and high school students
took the first stage of the university entrance exams and would take the second stage next and that they
defined themselves as test-anxious students. To this end, necessary permissions were received from the
Directorate of National Education to conduct research at two high schools and secondary schools in Muğla,
and the school counselling services were contacted to ask for their help for referring students with intense
anxiety out of those who had consulted the school guidance and psychological counselling service due to
test anxiety problem to the research. The school administrations and students were informed of the research,
and it was announced that interviews would be performed and they were to be recorded with a voice
recorder during the research process. The participations were based on volunteering. All students
participated in the research voluntarily had consulted the school guidance and psychological counselling
services with complaint of test anxiety. 10 secondary school and 10 high school students took part in the
research with 20 students in total. Ages of the participants vary between 16 and 17 for the high schools and
14-15 for the secondary schools.
2.3 Data Collection Instrument
Data are generally collected in interviews in phenomenological research (Mulveen & Hepworth, 2006).
Similarly, the interview method was used in this research to collect data, too. As cited by Kuş Saillard
(2010) from different researchers, the qualitative interview is a data collection method that reveals
participants' perspectives and offer deeper and richer data on their experiences.
A semi-structured interview form consisting of open-ended questions was developed by using the
literature and the researchers' experience to use in interviews. The interview form was first reviewed by two
faculty members experienced in qualitative research as well as in the field of Psychological Counselling
and Guidance and corrected according to the feedback received from them. In addition, the question of
whether language impairment and understanding is difficult is examined by a specialist in Turkish language
education and necessary corrections are made. The interview form was used for the purpose of piloting, one
of the students outside the study group was used for interviewing one of the secondary school students who
was a high school student and as a result of this interview, it was checked whether the questions were
understandable and whether the students were willing to talk. The interview form was composed of the
questions What is Test Anxiety?”, “How does test anxiety affect your life?and "What do you think about
source of text anxiety". These questions were asked in the order of all participants and additional questions
were asked in order to get more detailed information from the students according to the progress of the
interviewer.
Interview data used in the research were obtained from interviews with 20 students studying at two
Anatolian high schools and 2 secondary schools during 2015-2016 academic year spring semester in Muğla
province. Negotiations were recorded with a voice recorder and a total of 254 minutes of voice recording
was obtained with a minimum of 7 minutes and 25 seconds as part of the survey. The voice recordings were
transferred to the computer environment and a total of 42 pages of documents were obtained. The texts
were presented to the interviewed students; students were allowed to make changes on the texts and given
the final form after the approval of the students.
2.4 Data Analysis
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The data obtained in the study were analyzed by content analysis method. In a content analysis study, it is
aimed to gather similar data in the framework of certain concepts and themes and interpret and arrange
them in a form through which the reader can understand them (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2008). NVivo 11
program, a computer-aided qualitative data analysis program, was used for data analysis. The induction
approach was adopted during the content analysis. A code was assigned to each research question to
facilitate the analysis in NVivo, and the answers given by the students were analyzed word by word and
sentence by sentence to create codes through NVivo's coding feature. Next, themes were formed to include
the common codes. During the coding process, the words used by the participants when expressing their
opinions were utilized and the codes were created through direct citations. For specifying the themes,
names of themes to cover similar codes were determined by the researchers and the codes were gathered in
these themes.
The process of encoding and thematization was conducted by the three researchers individually in the
data analysis. At the end of this process aiming to achieve the data reliability, consistency of the codes was
examined as Agreement or Disagreement, and it was found with the formula introduced by Miles and
Huberman (1994) that there was agreement among the researchers at 87%. Also for achieving the validity
and reliability of the results in the research, the research process was explained in detail and the data were
presented with detailed and direct citation as much as possible (Yıldırım & Şimşek, 2008).
The themes specified during the analysis and the correlations among them were illustrated with the
support of maps presented by NVivo. Data both on shared opinions and individual opinions were
redounded in these illustrations. Hence, the themes could be based on a single student opinion as well as
group opinions. The themes were correlated and analyzed in a holistic approach to achieve explanatory
results in the data analysis, and the data were clearly described in an effort.
3. Findings
3.1 High School Students
3.1.1 Students Descriptions of Test Anxiety
Holistic view of secondary school studentsopinions on test anxiety are given in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Test Anxiety of High School Students
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High school studentsopinions on test anxiety descriptions are given in Figure 2. The causes were gathered
in two main themes as seen in the figure: It is a Cognitive Symptom (thought that I will forget, thought that
I will not be successful, thought that I am not enough, thought that I will embarrass my family, lack of
self-confidence, thought of overestimating the exam, and thought that I should do better) and It is a
Physiological Symptom.
The first theme in which the high school students described test anxiety is Cognitive Symptom.The
reason why this title was chosen is that cognitive elements were intensive in this theme. As seen in Figure 1,
the descriptions of test anxiety as cognitive symptoms were gathered in seven themes (thought that I will
forget, a thought that I will not be successful, thought that I am not enough, thought that I will embarrass
my family, lack of self-confidence, thought of overestimating the exam, and thought that I should do better).
As for the frequency of the codes, thought that I will not be successful, thought that I am not enough, and
thought that I should do better are in the forefront and the statements were concentrated on these 3 themes.
In the thought that I will forget theme, the students provided statements like I sometimes forget what I
know during the exam, You study for the exam, you think it will not come to your mind during the exam,
and you forget what you know in the exam, and I call it I cant show what I know in the exam.
Regarding the thought that I will not be successful, the students stated The anxiety caused by the
thought that I cant translate what I know into performance during the exam is test anxiety,
Disappointments coming along with the thought that there is so much effort in the exam and I wont be
able to do this and that, We feel the fear with the thought that I cant do it when solving the questions,
Im studying for the exam but Im thinking I cant do it, and Thinking that I cant do it even if Ive
studied hard . We can see the following statements under the title of thought of I am not enough:
Thought that I need to be better, Anxiety caused by having to be always better due to perfectionism, I
feel the fear with the thought that I cant do it when solving the questions, Being unprepared is also a
cause of anxiety, It feels like youve poorly studied even if you have sufficiently or much and therefore
you think youll score low in the exam, Failing to do it even though youve studied hard and thinking that
you wont be able to do it anymore.
Under the title of thought that I will embarrass my family, there are the statements The fear of
disappointing my family, I think test anxiety is a feeling hard to control which we create in our minds and
which affects our lives, school life and friends thinking that we are in debt with our families, and They
expect good things from me while the statements Failing to do it even though youve studied hard and
thinking that you wont be able to do it anymore and Its rather self-confidence; Im studying for the
exam but thinking that I cant do itare seen under the title of lack of confidence, the statements I can say
its the anxiety caused by being have to be always better. Theres a little bit of perfectionism, too. and I
need to be better under the title of thought that I should do better, and the statements Overthinking the
exam and making it unachievable, making the university we wish to go unachievable.under the thought of
overestimating the exam.
The second theme in which the high school students described test anxiety is Physical Symptoms.
This title was chosen because physical elements were observed rather in high school studentsdescriptions.
Descriptions regarding the physical symptoms are given in Figure 2. We can see one of the students
described test anxiety as When I took the exam, my hands felt ice cold, I got a stomach ache, therefore
performing poorlyand another student described it as It is the outcome with a physiological effect which
influences the success..
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Figure 2. High school studentsdescriptions of test anxiety
3.1.1.1 How does test anxiety affect your life?
High school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affects their lives were thematized as It affects
relationship with my family, Withdrawal, Negative affection, It negatively affects my preparation
and performance,and I think I cannot get prepared enough.as seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3. High school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affects their lives
Among these themes, we see that majority of them are in It affects relationship with my family and
Negative affection.In the theme It affects relationship with my family, the students stated, Im always
fighting my family, theyre staying on the good side of me.”, Theyre trying to comfort me but my anxiety
affects them, it makes them nervous, too. They become nervous as I do., My anxiety makes them anxious.
I get even more anxious when theyre anxious. Were going round in circles., Theyre stressed. What is
he doing, how is he studying, is he stringing along with his friends, how much is he studying?Theyre
worried about these., Im fighting my family the most., For example, I was vexed with my mother for a
week once.and It cause trouble at home. Our fathers and mothers get angry with us when we score low.”.
We can see the following statements in the theme of negative affection: This turned me into someone
very unhappy., You mentally collapse., This anxiety affects one rather mentally., It affects me when
Im studying other than the exams., I withdraw and get emotional.”. The statements I move away from
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life quite a bit.and Im withdrawing.can be observed in the withdrawaltheme which we can regard
as the behavioral extension of the negative affection theme.
When examining other themes, there are two themes related to preparation and performance. One of
them is It negatively affects my preparation and performancewhich is the behavioral aspect and the other
one is I think I cannot get prepared enough which is the cognitive aspect. The students stated, It
sometimes stops me from studying and affects my daily life. and Being constantly anxious affects my
understanding of courses and subjects. in the theme of It negative affects my preparation and
performance.”. In the theme of I think I cannot get prepared enough, we can see the following statements:
How am I going to catch up, where do I start... I overestimate the subjects so much that I cant know
where to begin and sometimes I quit studying for good.and This anxiety puts even more pressure. Like
how are we going to finish the subjects, do them in time?”.
3.1.1.2 What do you think about source of text anxiety?
High school studentsopinions on the source of text anxiety are given in Figure 4. As seen in the figure, the
causes are gathered in two main themes: Individual Factors (peer pressure - other-oriented perfectionism,
shame about parentsand teachersexpectations, self-oriented perfectionism, interpersonal sensitivity, trait
anxiety, intolerance of uncertainty and Environmental Factors (parents-teachers motivational words,
parents-teachersanxious attitudes, parents higher expectations of success).
Figure 4. High school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affects their lives
It is seen that the frequency of the Individual Factorstheme is higher than the other one. The most
frequent subtheme of the individual factors is peer pressure - other-oriented perfectionism. The
following statements can be observed in this theme: Im looking at my friends and getting anxious about
whether theyll overrun me and Ill stay in the background in the exam., I find myself more unsuccessful
than others., I cant study because I dont refuse my friends. Thats why I feel bad and am affected
negatively., When I see my friends studying, my friends ask me what Ive scored after the exam... I cant
tell them if I score low, so I must do it., Fear of falling behind my friends about the lessons. I think thats
what makes me anxious the most., I dont want any gap between my friends about the courses subjects.
and I get more anxious when friends who took the exam before say its hard..
The peer pressure - other-oriented perfectionism subtheme is followed by the interpersonal
sensitivitysubtheme in the theme of individual factors. The following student statements can be found in
this theme: I cant focus on the course because even something little distracts me., My mood is so
fragile now that Id feel bad no matter who says anything., I can even be affected by the look of
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teachers., and Its us. Its about oneself and their inner world. I get influenced too quickly.”.
Other themes are closer to each other in terms of frequency. In the shame about parentsand
teachersexpectations subtheme, we can see the statements But I feel bad as long as I dont study;
especially for my family and teachers.and My teachers are very caring about me but I think I cant meet
the value they attach to me. This completely kills me.while the statements I see somethings are always
missing. It feels like its not enough however much I study with the thought that I couldnt finish it.and I
think perfectionism is effective.in the subtheme of self-oriented perfectionism, the statement Im an
alarming person; I cant elude the thought that I cant do it. in the subtheme of trait anxiety, and the
statement Whats it going to be with me, what am I going to do, where will I go... This uncertainty affects
me.in the subtheme of intolerance of uncertainty.
When ranked based on the frequencies in the other theme of environmental factors, the subtheme of
parents-teachersmotivational words is in the forefront and it is followed by the subthemes of parents
higher expectations, and parents-teachersanxious attitudes. We can see the following student statements
in the subtheme of parents-teachersmotivational words: It makes me anxious when my teachers always
tell me you must study, you must do it to motivate me., My anxiety is increased by my teachers
motivational attitudes., The teacher says Why did you do that? You used to study, what happened? I can
even be affected by his look. Maybe hes not judging me at that moment but thats what I feel., Our
teachers trying to motivate us and decrease our anxiety so that we have less stress but it doesn’t work with
me., It makes me more anxious when my parents tell me to leave it this year and try in the next year.,
They say You cant pass this year, do it next year, you have to study moreand this makes me anxious.
and Our daily talks are generally about the university exam.”.
Whereas the statements “My parents have a high expectation of success in numerical courses., Even
if my parents do not react too much when I fail, they mean it by their actions and behaviors.and Our poor
performance due to anxiety cause troubles at home; our parents get angry with us when we score loware
seen in the subtheme of parentshigher expectations of success, there are the statements My parents
unfavourable attitudes may be effective., Our teachersnegative attitudes are also effective.and It may
be caused by teachersattitudes.in the subtheme of parents-teachersanxious attitudes.
3.2 Secondary School Students
3.2.1 Students Descriptions of Test Anxiety
Holistic view of secondary school studentsopinions on test anxiety are given in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Test Anxiety of Secondary School Students
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Secondary school studentsopinions on test anxiety descriptions are given in Figure 6. As seen in the figure,
the causes are gathered in two main themes: It is an Emotional Symptom (stress and fear experienced
during exam, hopelessness, the fear of 'what if I cannot do it, fear of making mistakesand It is a
Cognitive Symptom.
Figure 6. Secondary school studentsdescriptions of test anxiety
When comparing the two themes, we see that the students concentrated on the theme of It is an Emotional
Symptom. The most frequent subtheme in theme of It is an Emotional Symptomis stress and fear
experienced during exam.”. We can see the statements It is a fear that I experience psychologically.,
Stressing extremely during or before the exam., and The stress and excitement I have in the exam.in
the subtheme of stress and fear experienced during exam.
This subtheme is followed by the subthemes of hopelessnessand fear of making mistakes in the
theme of It is an Emotional Symptom.In the subtheme of hopelessness, we can see the statements I get
hopeless and scared when I cant solve a question while studying and thinking what if I cant do it in the
high school entrance exams.and The moments when I feel hopeless. The statements I feel excited in
case Ill do it wrong in the exam.and It is the fear of making mistakes during the exam.can be observed
in the subtheme of fear of making mistakes. We can see the following statement in the final subtheme of the
It is an Emotional Symptomtheme which is the fear of what if I cannot do it: The anxiety about solving
the questions I know wrongly and the time wont be enough in the exam.
The second theme in which the secondary school students described test anxiety is Physical
Symptoms. This title was chosen because cognitive elements were observed rather in secondary school
studentsdescriptions. Descriptions regarding the physical symptoms are given in Figure 4. We can see that
one of the students described it with the statements: Were competing with very good students. As were in
a long marathon, it is the anxiety whether I cant do it in case of anything.while another student provided
the description Failing to achieve what Im aiming.
3.2.1.1 How does test anxiety affect your life?
As seen in Figure 7, secondary school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affect their life were
thematized as follows: I feel I am embarrassing my family, It causes physiological symptoms, I feel
tense, Withdrawal, I get motivated, Negative affection and I think what if I cannot do it.”.
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Figure 7. Secondary school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affects their lives
We see that the answers to the question how test anxiety affects studentslives concentrate on I think
what if I cannot do it. The students presented the following opinions in the theme of I think what if I
cannot do it: It makes me think what if I cannot do it and that I dont want to upset my parents., I
thought what if I do it wrong, what if my parents get angry, can I not go to the school I want?due to the
stress I had, It is stressful because I do my best and sometimes think if its going to be alright., What if
I cannot do it in the exam? I constantly have these fears., Others perform better in the exams, I get
demoralized when I see them., You get anxious about what if you score low, whether you can go to a
low-score high school?and Im always studying because I cant do it.
In the second most frequent theme I feel tensefollowing the before mentioned theme, we can see
the statements I feel tense thinking if theyre not hopeful about me, they think Ill do many mistakes in the
exam., I get very stressful when thinking if I do mistakes and my parents get angry, what if I cant go to
the school I want.”, “I get too stressed and give negative energy around me., and I become angry.”.
As for another theme I feel I am embarrassing my parents, we can see the following student
statements: I feel stressed thinking if theyre not hopeful about me, they think Ill do many mistakes in the
exam., “Get very stressful when thinking if I do mistakes and my parents get angry, what if I cant go to
the school I want., It makes me think what if I cannot do it and that I dont want to upset my parents.,
and My parents tell me that theyll compare me to other kids. They want me to go to a good school, too,
but what they do makes me more anxious.. Another theme which is as frequent as the theme of I feel I am
embarrassing my parentsis the negative affection theme. We can see the statements What if I cannot do it
in the exam? I constantly have these fears., . You get anxious about what if you score low, whether you
can go to a low-score high school?, and. When you put so much effort in the exam, you cant help but
feel a burden. in this theme. The remarkable point here is that the statement. I feel stressed thinking if
theyre not hopeful about me, they think Ill do many mistakes in the exam. was mentioned both in the
S2= I feel I am embarrassing my parents and negative affection themes. The reason is that the part if
theyre not hopeful about me, they think Ill do many mistakes in the exam refers to the I feel I am
embarrassing my parentstheme with the part I feel stressedreferring to the negative affectiontheme.
We can see the statements I cant sleep because Im afraid. My sleep pattern has been broken.and I
get watery eyes when Im afraid, I cant see much. in the theme of It causes physiological symptoms,
the statement I sometimes isolate myself from my friends without noticing it.in the theme of withdrawal,
and the statements If a student has an objective, this affects him positively and push him to study.and
Im always studying because I cant do it.in the theme of I get motivated.
3.2.1.2 What do you think about source of text anxiety?
Secondary school studentsopinions on the causes underlying the test anxiety are given in Figure 8. As it is
with the high school students, the causes are gathered in two main themes: Individual Factors (peer pressure
- other-oriented perfectionism, sense of over-responsibility towards family, shame about parentsand
teachers expectations and it is a thought that I am not enough and Environmental Factors
(parents-teachersmotivational words parents-teachershigher expectations of success.).
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Figure 8. Secondary school studentsopinions on how test anxiety affects their lives
When comparing the two themes, we see that the students concentrated on the theme of
environmental factors. The most frequent subtheme in theme of environmental factors is
parents-teachers higher expectations of success. We can see the following statements in this theme:
My family, teachers and even my social circle expect something from me. You got the capacity, you can
do it, youre going to do it if you really study.Im worried about whether I cant meet these., I dont
want to upset my parents and teachers, I want to meet their expectations., My mother increases the
anxiety. Shes always like study, study, youll take the exam, youll take the exam., Parents pressure,
They expect so much from us that they expect even more. Theyll get angry when we cant do it.,
Because everyone is anxious. Not only the student, but also the family thinks what if our kid cant study,
go to a bad school, then what?The teacher thinks that, too., We want to go to a good school, too, but our
parents and teachers have high expectations and say that we must study., Our teachers and families have
high expectations, they tell us to study., When they say We expect this from you. You have to do it. I
feel nervous in case I cant meet their expectations.and If I cant do it in the exam, I get anxious in case
Ill embarrass my teacher.
The second most frequent subtheme is parents-teachersmotivational wordsin the theme of
environmental factors. We can see the following student statements in this subtheme: What my teachers
say also makes me anxious., Some of my teachers often say that wed go to a bad high school if we
couldnt do it., My teachers say Youll fall behind thousands of students with one false answer. Study
accordingly and behave, My family, teachers and even my social circle expect something from me.
You got the capacity, you can do it, youre going to do it if you really study.Im worried about whether I
cant meet these., My teachers increase the anxiety like this: I get the impression whether I study less as
they say others are very good., My mother increases the anxiety. Shes always like study, study, youll
take the exam, youll take the exam., Its also the warnings of some teachers. Theyre saying, Youll
have no time to breathe. Then, we think its not that serious. And we become more anxious. and My
teacher discredited me for once or twice. Saying that Id go to bad high schools. Id thought whether I
couldn’t do it..
When ranked in accordance with their frequencies in the theme of individual factors, sense of
over-responsibility toward familyis in the forefront. It is possible to observe the following statements in
this theme: I think I have responsibility toward my family., I think I must be successful only for my
family., I feel like everyone would give up on me and Id seem to be a bad student if I failed.and My
family, teachers and even my social circle expect something from me. You got the capacity, you can do it,
youre going to do it if you really study.Im worried about whether I cant meet these.The statements It
causes anxiety when I think Ill embarrass the teachers if I cant do it., I feel like everyone would give up
on me and Id seem to be a bad student if I failed. and My family, teachers and even my social circle
expect something from me. You got the capacity, you can do it, youre going to do it if you really study.
Im worried about whether I cant meet these.can be observed in shame about parents-teachers
expectationswhich is another subtheme of environmental factors. The following statements can be seen in
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the subtheme of peer pressure - other-oriented perfectionism: I sometimes know that I know and feel
prepared in the exam, too, but were competing with such good people that theres always a fear and unrest
inside. It affects me so much were in a state of competition., Getting ahead of many people, I mean, its
very difficult.and Youre competing with many people and theres the inevitable anxiety. If you lose one
question, hundreds of people can get ahead of you. For the final subtheme of the environmental factors
which is the thought that I am not enough, it is possible to see the statements If I know something is
missing in what I know and Im taking an exam, it makes me anxious in the exam. and I come to think
that my grade will be low if I do it wrong.
4. Discussion
It is seen according to the research findings that studentsdescriptions of test anxiety differ between the two
student groups. Cognitive symptoms are observed in both groups; however, it can be said that they were
more emphasized by the high school students. Since statements like It is a thought that...were observed
in high school studentsdescriptions, such statements were thematized as Cognitive Symptoms. The
statements including the cognitive symptoms are the thought that I will forget, the thought that I will not be
successful, the thought that I am not enough, the thought that I will embarrass my family, lack of
self-confidence, the thought of overestimating the exam, and the thought that I should do better. One can
see that the high school students generally provided their automatic thoughts when describing the test
anxiety. According to Beck (1976), whenever we have an unpleasant feeling, an automatic and extremely
quick thought comes to our minds before this feeling. Beck called this automatic thought and regarded it
the raw material of emotional problems. We can see that the statements used by the students describing the
anxiety reflect automatic thoughts in accordance with this definition. Türkçapar (2012) argues that
automatic thoughts are short and volatile by nature, and unlike our written or speech sentences, they are not
long and not suitable for grammatical rules. When looking at the descriptions, we can see the answers given
by the students are short sentences. Another cognitive structure that comes to mind is core beliefs and
schema activation in consideration of the answers related to the test anxiety. In some resources, we can
observe that concept of schema is used as being synonymous with concept of core belief. While some
theoreticians include intermediate and core beliefs within the cognitive structure in the concept of schema
to achieve easier comprehension, others address core beliefs as schema (Türkçapar, 2012). Schemas were
handled as its form that covers intermediate and core beliefs in this schema. Intermediate beliefs refer to
rules and premises relate to life whereas core beliefs may involve individualsunderstanding of anything
continues in relation with how the individuals see themselves, others and world, which defines how they
organize the personal and environmental information (Leahy, 2010; Türkçapar, 2012). We can say that the
students experienced anxiety with the activation of the hopelessness schema which involves the lack of
strength, success and performance. The hints related to past experiences that underlies the formation of
these thoughts are observed in another finding of the study: Parent and teacher attitudes This finding is
addressed in a more detailed way later in the discussion section.
As statements like it is an emotion that...was seen in the descriptions by the secondary school
students, these statements were thematized as Emotional Symptoms.The statements involving the
emotional symptoms focused on stress and fear experienced in exam, hopelessness, and fear of making
mistakes.We can see that the secondary school students were rather emotion-focused when describing the
test anxiety. It is known that high school groups go through more extensively designed test experiences
with the differentiated content in addition to the test climate such as high school entrance exams, etc. during
the secondary school. Hence, experience levels of secondary school students regarding tests/exams and
being tested may be lower than the levels of high school students. Furthermore, how the secondary school
students used emotions instead of thoughts to describe test anxiety was something anticipated in terms of
development. Creed, Reisweber, and Beck (2011) suggest that this age group have difficulty in
distinguishing between emotions and thoughts, and advise clinicians working with these age groups to
utilize pictures and caricatures in case of difficulty in distinguishing between emotions and thoughts. As for
the importance of emotions in regard to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, emotions are the starting point of
therapeutic interventions because clients go to counselling for the complaints about what they feel rather
than what they think (Neenan & Dryden, 2015). In this case, if clients cannot access their emotions,
counsellors/therapists cannot reveal their negative thoughts, either. In other words, cognitive therapy cannot
be realized without revealing the cognitive reactions. From this point of view, it is seen that how the
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secondary school students were aware of their emotions would facilitate intervention and prevention studies.
It is also an advantage to motivate students to participate in prevention or intervention studies based on
their emotions.
Given the answers provided by the secondary school students to the question How does test anxiety
affect your life? cognitive model was confirmed once again within the context of this research. Test
anxiety (event) causes the thought that what if I cannot do it and that I will embarrass my parents (belief);
these thoughts lead to negative affection (emotion) which causes the students to feel tense and
physiological symptoms (physiology), therefore eventually causing withdrawal in terms of behaviour
(action). It is possible to say that the cross-sectional model exists among the high school students. Test
anxiety (event) causes the thought that it affects the preparation and one cannot get prepared enough
(belief); these thoughts lead to negative affection (emotion) which consequently causes withdrawal in terms
of behaviour and problem in family relations (action). It can be observed that the physiological element is
missing in the model of the high school students. What is the benefit of cognitive model? Clients benefit
from cognitive model in two ways: The first one make them step back from their unsettling thoughts and
emotions, which ensures a more objective examination of them ad the second one enables the relationship
among emotion, thought, physiology, and behaviour to be more concrete, vivid and apprehensible (Neenan
& Dryden, 2015). Moreover, this simple model, if it is remembered, could help us comprehend many
challenges and make alterations later (Foreman & Pollard, 2011).
We can find what triggers automatic thoughts of the secondary and high school students in the answer
to the question What do you think about source of text anxietyAn important source of test anxiety that
we come across with both high school and secondary school students is the high expectation of success.
This expectation comes from both teachers and parents. According to Van de Vijver and Leung (2000),
parental effect on success is a factor specific to Eastern societies. In the cross-cultural study conducted by
Bodas and Ollendick (2005) on test anxiety, it was found that Indian studentsshame about parents
expectations and parents high expectation of success were more effective on test anxiety compared to the
American students. In another study, 66% of the students stated that they experience parental pressure (Deb,
Strodl, & Sun, 2015). Menon (2013) found in the study conducted with adolescents that homework is a
crucial source of anxiety. It was also observed in that study how students do not receive feedback from their
teachers, teacherspressure about future and parentscomparison of adolescents and their peers were
important stress sources. We can see that parents and teachers motivational words have a negative rather
than positive impact on both high school and secondary school students due to their high expectations of
success. For instance, the fact that parentsdaily talks about exams or the sentences We count on you,
youre a hardworking student, why did you score low?or You have the capacity, you can do it, much as
they are uttered with good intensions and for encouragement, make a reverse impression on students,
causing the test anxiety. It is known that students are highly sensitive due to the developmental period they
are going through. This is the reason why these quite reasonable statements are perceived by students as
being judging and blaming. This sensitivity causes students to make the following assumptions: 1) I should
be as successful as my peers and 2) I cannot embarrass my parents and teachers. Students find themselves
insufficient or unprepared/being not able to prepare because of these statements. At the end of this process,
they live to regret thinking that they cannot study enough and perform highly enough.
Within the context of this researchs important results, it is seen that the secondary school students
were internal locus of control and mostly referred the anxiety to themselves in their descriptions of test
anxiety and its sources. The aspect of time was also in the forefront and during the examwas emphasized
in their descriptions of test anxiety. It was observed that they used especially the concepts of stress, fear,
and worry regarding during the exam.It can be inferred that the high school students were rather external
locus of control in their descriptions. The anxiety elements include students perceived peer pressure and
their comparison of themselves and peers. How they take the success of their peers as the criterion of their
success is the evidence of the case.
We can see in the study performed by Cassady and Johnson (2002)that higher cognitive test anxiety
caused lower academic performance and 7% to 8% of studentsperformance in exams were explained by
cognitive test anxiety. Test anxietys effect on low success is explained by Naveh-Benjamin (1991) as
follows: Anxiety experienced during the preparation for a test may cause preparation to be conceptualized
and regulated improperly and the ability to remember important information during the test to be limited
(Naveh-Benjamin, 1991). According to Hembree (1988), test anxiety is directly related to low studying
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skills. Students who think that test anxiety affects their performances and preparations lose self-confidence
and students who lose their beliefs in their ability to prepare stop studying with the thought that they cannot
be successful no matter what. Consequently, they may not exhibit the performance they expect in exams.
If we examine the intervention studies on test anxiety, we can see that interventions and preventive
studies are mostly on students only (Can, Dereboy & Eskin, 2012; Carter et al., 2005; Erwin-Grabner,
Goodill, Hill, & Von Neida, 1999; Lang & Lang, 2010; Larson, El Ramahi, Conn, Estes, & Ghibellini, 2010;
Onwuegbuzie & Daley, 1996; Serrano Pintado, Delgado Sánchez-Mateos, & Escolar-Llamazares, 2016;
Weems et al., 2009; Yahav & Cohen, 2008; Zinta, 2008). Yet, it can be understood from the research
result that the phenomenon of test anxiety is not just related to students. It is seen that parents and teacher
can also be the sources of test anxiety. Indeed, the secondary school students used the words parents and
teachers together constantly and did not mention them separately. In consideration of the process, test
anxiety is not only the problem of students but also parents and teachers play a key role. No matter how
some of the students regarded the cause of anxiety as overestimation of the exam, verbal and non-verbal
messages of teachers and parents are effective in the formation of anxiety, too.
5. Recommendations
It is thought that the same interventions would not be appropriate for both groups if the construct of their
anxiety was assumed to be the same and cognitive interventions with high school students would be more
proper as cognitive elements were observed more frequently in the statements of the high school students.
When considering from this perspective, it is suggested that it would be more appropriate to train this group
in skills of emotion regulation due to the dominance of emotional elements in the secondary school
studentsstatements.
Yet, it is understood that the parents-teachersattitudes are the common ground for both groups. It is
thought that intervention and prevention studies for test anxiety would be useful if they were conducted
within the context of both students and parents/teachers. Test anxiety seems to be a phenomenon which is
not only the problem of students but also needs to be studied as a whole.
Since the research essentially focused on the source(s) of test anxiety, the intermediate beliefs of the
automatic thoughts which were stated by the high school students when describing the test anxiety in
accordance with the cognitive model could not be identified. It is therefore suggested that in-depth and
extensive examination of test anxiety will contribute to practitioners and researchers in the comprehension
of test anxiety and in the interventions along with the identification of intermediate beliefs.
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Atılgan Erözkan, He works at the Department of Guidance and Psychological Counseling, Faculty of Education at Mugla Sitki
Kocman University in Turkey as Assistant Professor. His research interests focus on effects of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy on a
variety of problems faced by college students, high school and college students’ test anxiety and personality traits.
Uğur Doğan, He works at the Department of Guidance and Psychological Counseling, Faculty of Education at Mugla Sitki Kocman
University in Turkey as Assistant Professor. His research interests focus on effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on a variety of problems faced by college students, high school and college students’
social network sites (SNS) usage, problematic internet usage with respect to personality traits.
Arca Adıgüzel, He works at the Department of Guidance and Psychological Counseling, Faculty of Education at Mugla Sitki Kocman
University in Turkey as Research Assistant. His research interests focus on effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on a variety of problems faced by college students, high school and college students’
social network sites (SNS) usage, problematic internet usage with respect to personality traits.
... Of various sources of test anxiety, parents and teachers' expectations of success can agitate students and make them deliver a poorer performance (Erözkan et al., 2017). The sources of test anxiety might also be unclear or inaccurate instructions and inadequate time allocation, which in turn adversely affect test performance (Madsen, 1983). ...
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Introduction. This study sought to discern the impact of test anxiety on English language learners’ test performance. Method. Fifty female learners at intermediate and upper-intermediate levels of English were divided into two groups – Multiple-Choice (MC) and Error Identification (EI) – according to their scores in vocabulary tests given in the pre-treatment phase. A questionnaire was then administered to assess the level of anxiety brought about by these tests. During a 20-week period the EI group received lesson plans designed based on error-identification activities, while the MC group was offered instructions including multiple-choice items. After the treatment, the same tests and questionnaire were administered. Results and Discussion. The findings showed that the level of test anxiety was higher in the EI group compared with the MC group. The positive role of familiarization and the negative impact of debilitative anxiety were observed through this study. The findings of the current study can be transferred to other high-stake proficiency tests.
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