Countering Evaluation Anxiety and Promoting Student Success

Many students experience varying degrees of evaluation anxeity. Teachers can employ these means to help students to reduce their anxiety.

Assessment & Evaluation April 6, 2020

Did you ever have a sense of impending doom when your teacher announced an exam or gave an assignment? Did you ever enter an exam feeling well prepared, only to freeze when you saw the first question? If so, you have a sense of evaluation anxiety.

Evaluation anxiety is being so concerned about scores that a student functions below their true ability level. Addressing evaluation anxiety begins with setting the stage for student success:

  1. Set up study groups. Early in the term, provide opportunity for students to sign up for study groups and then give the groups a short initial meeting within class time to get organized.
  2. Provide study guides. Especially for students who are just entering an academic level, provide a review guide for major exams. This can include a list of topics and concepts that have been emphasized in class, a sheet of review questions, or a sample of a similar exam or similar items.
  3. Provide scoring guides. For course projects, provide a rubric that delineates the various elements expected in the finished product and how these will be assessed. It may also be helpful to provide a sample of exemplary student work. Be sure, however, that you have received the student’s permission in writing and that you remove any identifying information from the project.
  4. Facilitate group review. Assign small groups of students to develop and present to the class their answers to the review questions. Then, as a simulation, evaluate the answers and explain your evaluation criteria. Alternatively, you can ask the rest of the class to evaluate the response.
  5. Conduct review sessions. Make it clear, however, that you will not be summarizing the presentations or readings, nor will you be giving the answers to the review questions. Clarify that everyone should have already answered the review questions and should bring some specific questions about the reviewed material. Ask other class members to answer a student’s question before giving your opinion as the teacher.

Building on this foundation, there are specific strategies that you can implement to reduce apprehension, and particularly, test anxiety. Here are some ideas:

  • Set the exam schedule and project due dates from the start of the course and communicate these in writing, together with the policy for absences on exam day.
  • Establish a clear system of grading and explain how final grades are assigned.
  • Evaluate frequently. This distributes the risk and encourages the student to study more consistently.
  • Talk about the exam in positive terms. Students do not want to hear how difficult an exam will be, but rather how they should study and words of encouragement.
  • Students have expressed that they feel more anxious when there are interruptions during an exam, even if these are intended to clarify items. Tell students that if necessary, you will write any clarification on the board.
  • Students feel more nervous when the teacher walks through the classroom during an exam, watching what they are doing. One option is to read a book, seated in the back of the room, while maintaining a sense of with-it-ness.
  • Include a few easy questions at the beginning of the exam to enhance confidence.
  • Allow students to discard the lowest one or two quiz scores. (We all have our bad days!)
  • Make sure your exams and projects can be reasonably completed in the time allotted.
  • Teach your students to relax (e.g., deep breathing, count to ten, visualize a successful exam).

Everything you can do to reduce your students’ anxiety will allow them to more faithfully demonstrate what they have really learned.


John Wesley Taylor

John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, is Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as teacher and educational administrator in North America, Latin America, and Asia, and in elementary, secondary, and higher education settings. He is a friend of young people and a colleague of teachers.

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