Test anxiety

October 2, 2008, 4:00 pm

Sorry for the infrequent postings; this day job thing is eating up all my time! For this post I just have a simple question for you: Does “test anxiety” exist?

By putting the term in quotes, I am referring to test anxiety as a pathological condition that a person can have or not have, as opposed to the perfectly normal anxiety that everybody feels when they do something high-stakes, like taking a test. The reason I am asking this question is that I overheard a student in the hallway today saying something to the effect of, “I went to the doctor/psychologist and he told me I have test anxiety.” That struck me as a strange thing to say. Everybody gets nervous before performances, and so if everybody “has” it, does anybody really “have” it? And does having it phrased as a diagnosis of a condition, given by a medical professional or counselor mean that it’s really a kind of medical condition?

When I was in school, I was anxious before every test I ever took, but to me that just meant that I needed to prepare thoroughly. If test anxiety is a diagnosis of a condition, then it’s not a preparation issue but some kind of thing that is happening to me and there’s nothing I can do short of taking medicines and getting all kinds of special dispensations from teachers. That seems like a really big difference from the student’s standpoint.

By the way, you can very well substitute “math anxiety” for “test anxiety” and ask the same questions. So, comment away.

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