1.1 Background to the Study
Test anxiety is an unpleasant state characterized by feelings of tension and apprehension, worrisome thoughts and the activation of the autonomic nervous system when an individual faces evaluative achievement-demanding situations (Tuncay, & Ergene, 2012). It is the hyper-arousal condition that results in physiological, emotional and intellectual changes that prevent the effective use of the previously learned information while taking an examination. Test anxiety is a non-specific trait that refers to the anxiety state and worry conditions experienced during examination (Ndirangu, Muola, Kithuka & Nassiuma, 2009).
Test or examination is an assessment intended to measure a test-taker’s achievement, knowledge, skill, aptitude or physical fitness. It is one of the main methods of assessment in schools at all levels (Woolfolk, 2009). Test taking is part of students’ life. However, it has been observed that some students are so fearful of tests or other forms of examination such that many students develop test anxiety towards examination. The level of test anxiety can fluctuate over time in an individual in response to different types of tests or examination. An individual, in response to both internal and external stimulation exhibit some observable behaviours such as perspiration, excessive movement, and questioning of instructions, sweaty palms and muscle tension during testing situations. Also, there may be disruption or disorganization of effective problem solving and cognitive control of the student including difficulty in thinking clearly (Freidman & Benda -Jacob, 2007).
According to Ohman (2000), test anxiety involves a physiological over arousal, worry and dread about test performance which often interferes with normal learning and lowers test
performance. Harris and Coy (2005) stated that test anxiety and other deficits related to test anxiety interfere with academic performance. A study conducted by Cassady and Johnson (2002), on cognitive test anxiety of undergraduate students in Kuwait and United States of America showed that students with high level of anxiety have low academic performance. The students perform poorly not only in the regular class setting but also on achievement and aptitude tests (Fiore, 2003). Test anxiety is believed to be the trait that predisposes students to react negatively to examinations and tests (Keogh and Steven, 2010).
Test anxiety according to Spielberger (1979) and Eubank (1993), consists of two major components: worry and emotionality. Worry is an unpleasant thought or concern about things that might happen or problems that one may have which includes personal thoughts regarding poor test performance, ultimate course or academic failure (Fiore, 2003). Emotionality, on the other hand describes the unpleasant autonomic responses such as fear, panic, tension, increased heart and respiratory rates, muscle tension, sweaty palms, etc (Slade & Francis 2009). Emotionality tends to peak immediately before a test, and falls off rapidly when the test is concluded. Furthermore, emotionality is not related to performance expectancy but worry is related to performance expectancy, and tends to be fairly constant across time (Leibert & Morris, 1967 in Onyeizugbo, 2010).
Worry impairs performance by reducing the amount of working memory available, such that task performance is seriously impaired. While test-anxious individuals must put in more effort to achieve the same satisfactory levels of performance as their non-test anxious counterparts, they have the capability of performing well when their worry is contained. Of the two components of test anxiety, worry has been found to contribute more to test anxiety and poor performance (Keogh et al., 2004). According to Chinta (2005), students with high test anxiety respond to test or examination with intense emotional reactions and negative self-
thought that impair performance leading to lower grades and result in high dropout rates of students. On the other hand, students with low levels of anxiety maintain their focus throughout information processing and retrieval; because there is few or no cognitive deficiency and the students persist in doing the task and perform well during examination and achievement test (Onyeizugbo, 2010).