The fear factor: students’ experiences of test anxiety when taking A-level examinations

This paper presents the findings of a pilot study that explored students’ experiences of test anxiety when taking A-level examinations. Four focus groups were convened with a sample of 19 participants in the south of England to explore the triggers of test anxiety and the perceived need for interventions to assist high test-anxious students cope with the examination process. The findings suggested that the participants experienced two types of anxiety: ‘pre-exam anxiety’ (relating to, for example, revision and mock examinations) and ‘exam-day anxiety’ (relating to practical concerns, such as school policy on the arrival of students and the time available to complete the examination). Only three participants reported feeling that their examination performance was significantly impaired by test anxiety; most reported that a degree of anxiety aided their performance. With test anxiety perceived by most participants as motivational and useful, there was little support for any interventions from examination boards, parents or teachers to help reduce or manage test anxiety. However, based on participants’ experiences of the pre-examination period, it is suggested that test anxiety may impede students’ ability to prepare for their examinations, and that interventions during this stage may be useful. The findings also imply that there are some practical steps that could be taken by the educational community to help reduce students’ test anxiety.

Share this page