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Do practice tests reduce anxiety?

Do practice tests reduce anxiety?

4 min read
  • Stress management & well-being
  • Study skills & exam prep

As students prepare for exams, it is no surprise that test anxiety creeps in. The pressure to perform well and the fear of failure can turn the whole experience into a daunting challenge. In response to this challenge, teachers are constantly seeking effective strategies to support students in their exam preparation. One such strategy that has been gaining attention: practice tests.

Keep reading to uncover the true power of Practice Testing (not only as an effective learning strategy but also as a means to address exam-related stress) and learn more about:

  • What is practice testing?
  • What is test anxiety?
  • The benefits of practice testing
  • What the research says

What is practice testing?

Practice testing is a form of answering questions that involves retrieving information from memory using quizzes, exams or other assessment methods.

Unlike traditional studying methods such as re-reading notes or highlighting text, practice testing requires students to actively engage with the material and retrieve it from their long-term memory – in other words, it can be seen as a form of Retrieval Practice. This process has been shown to solidify learning and prepare students for real assessments.

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is a physiological response to the stress and pressure associated with taking an exam. It can arise before, during or after testing situations.

A little bit of stress can improve performance; however, when a student’s anxiety levels are so high that their normal functioning is hindered, their learning can significantly suffer. Some nerves around exams are inevitable, but it is important that students do not let their anxiety affect their learning. Finding effective ways to overcome Test Anxiety is therefore important – and practice testing is one of them.

We will teach your students to thrive under pressure with key stress management skills. Ideal in the lead up to exams.

What are the benefits of practice testing for students?

1. Enhancing long-term memory retention

    The act of retrieving learned information during a practice test forces the brain to re-consolidate the knowledge, strengthening neural connections and improving students’ ability to recall information.

    2. Improving metacognitive skills

      Engaging with practice tests allows students to monitor their understanding and gauge their knowledge level on various subjects, improving their Metacognition. This self-awareness leads to better judgement of what topics they have mastered or need working on.

      3. Allowing room for feedback

        After each practice test, students receive a clear indication of their current level of understanding, revealing not just the gaps in their knowledge, but also highlighting their progress. Practice tests allow for immediate feedback, so students can set small goals as they progress in their learning.

        So, how can practice testing help with test anxiety?

        For many students, the anxiety they feel on tests is anything but beneficial. However, Practice Testing has been found to significantly reduce the stress associated with exams and even improve overall performance. Here is how:

        1. Familiarity breeds confidence

        When students repeatedly engage in quizzes and taking tests, they become more familiar with the process and feel less intimidated. This familiarity can help reduce test anxiety and allow students to feel more confident in their abilities.

        2. Reducing the pressure

        Practice tests such as multiple-choice questions are typically less high-stakes compared to actual exams, therefore helping to alleviate some of the pressure and stress associated with testing situations. This can make the experience less daunting for students and allow them to perform better when it comes to the real exam.

        3. Identifying areas of improvement

        As mentioned before, practice testing allows students to receive feedback on their understanding and pinpoint areas that require more attention in their studies. This can alleviate anxiety as students can set small goals and slowly work towards them.

          What does the research say?

          In a study, 72% of students reported that taking regular practice tests such as quizzes on previously-learnt material made them feel less nervous when taking exams.

          Additionally, in a comprehensive review of 24 studies, researchers found strong evidence that practise tests reduce test anxiety when preparing for a summative exam. Beyond reducing test anxiety, practice tests have been proven to also enhance long-term retention of information, which definitely helps with exams.

          The analysis proposed two mechanisms which could explain why practice tests reduce test anxiety…

          1. Enhancing learning

            Practice tests motivate students to study harder and prepare better for future assessments. This reduces worry about poor performance and decreases test anxiety. Practice tests also allow students to identify their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to target their studying better. It also gives teachers an opportunity to track students’ progress and tailor lessons to their needs.

            2. Reducing uncertainty

              The study suggests that practice tests reduce test anxiety by reducing uncertainty, giving students more preparation with what an exam situation looks and feels like. With students somewhat prepared and aware of what to expect from the real tests, their anxiety levels should decrease.

              Final thoughts

              The evidence suggests that practice testing is not only a memory boosting and learning tool, but also a mighty strategy to overcome test anxiety. Not only can it empower our learners to excel academically, but it can also equip them to triumph over one of the most prevalent obstacles to academic performance.

              About the editor

              Bradley Busch

              Bradley Busch

              Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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