Objectives: test anxiety represents a disorder that has raised multiple issues, concerning both diagnosis and classification. The present study aims to evaluate the determining factors of test anxiety and its relationship with social anxiety. Materials and methods: the study was performed on 86 subjects, 9th and 10th grade students from two high schools in Cluj-Napoca. The subjects undertook a series of tests and questioners to evaluate their IQ, levels of social anxiety and test anxiety. Results and discussions: developing test anxiety is influenced by the presence of social anxiety, poor IQ, and the presence of social pressure (high performance academic environment).
Test anxiety is an entity that was not included in the DSM, but has drawn research in the field starting with the beginning of the 20th century. During the discussions for DSM IV, test anxiety was considered a form of social anxiety. This was based on the existing literature that indicated that people suffering from test anxiety also suffered from increased social anxiety and on the observation that patients with social anxiety were having increased levels of test anxiety. However, the most important factor in this decision was the difficulty of defining test anxiety as a separate entity and the high percentage of people with test anxiety in the general population (approximately 40%).
Test anxiety is defined as an excessive level of fear, worry and apprehension before, during and after a situation that involves testing. To these symptoms add up vegetative symptoms and worry about the consequences of poor results. For some, test anxiety is a chronic disease that forces them to cope with disappointing results that do not accurately reflect their knowledge. Test anxiety may take the form of an anxiety disorder (following the diagnostic criteria of DSM for an anxiety disorder). (1)
Test anxiety represents a specific situational feature that involves anxiety and worry during examinations. (2)
Students suffering from test anxiety have proven to have more general fears and worries than students not suffering from this disease. Predictable result, students suffering from test anxiety presented numerous negative cognitions and subjective suffering while taking a test. The fear of being negatively evaluated was not limited just to the test, given that the students presented identical symptoms while having to perform a new social task. 60% of the participants suffering from test anxiety also presented sufficient DSM III criteria for an anxiety disorder. (3)
Because the fear of being negatively evaluated is the main core of test anxiety, researchers assumed that this disorder is a subtype of social anxiety.
Four factors were discovered in close connection to test anxiety: hyper reactivity, worry, lack of attention and social humiliation. Out of the four, social humiliation had the greatest impact.
In a study that evaluated the relationship between cognitive levels of children and the ratio for them developing a psychiatric disorder in the adult life, researchers proved that low cognitive levels of a child correlate to a higher chance of developing a disorder of the anxiety/depression spectrum. (4)
Materials and methods:
The study was developed on 86 subjects, 9th and 10th grade students divided in two study groups: the first group was compounded of students from a high school with mediocre academic performance (21 students from the 9th grade and 21 students from the 10th grade) and the second group compounded of students from a high school with important academic performance (27 students from the 9th grade and 17 students from the 10th grade). All the subjects have been given the RAVEN test, the HAD Questionnaire for Anxiety and Depression, the Social Phobia Questionnaire (Robert L. Leahy) and the Test Anxiety Questionnaire (a set of 15 questions targeting anxiety while preparing for a test, taking a test and the moments after taking a test). The data was analyzed by using SPSS 19.
By applying a linear regression, taking as a dependant variable the score obtained at the Test Anxiety Questionnaire and as independent variables: gender, grade, the parents’ marital status (married/divorced/other), source of environment (urban/rural) and the score obtained at the Social Phobia Questionnaire and the RAVEN Test, we obtained an F coefficient of 4.7292, p=0.000, statistical design capable to explain 21.1% of the variation of test anxiety (adjusted R square=0.211). Of the tested variables, statistically relevant were the RAVEN Test scores (p=0.001) and the Social Phobia Questionnaire scores. The Beta coefficients for the two were very similar, slightly higher for the RAVEN Test (-0.422 in comparison to 0.329), thus the difference not being high enough to consider their influence for the variation of test anxiety. The only noticeable difference is the sign of the value of the coefficients (“-” for the RAVEN Test and ”+” for the Social Phobia Questionnaire), showing that a higher IQ correlates to a lower test anxiety and that a high social phobia correlates to a high test anxiety.
By applying the same regression for the 2 subgroups, the results were different. If for the group from the high school with mediocre academic performance, the regression equation could not be statistically validated, for the second group the results were similar to the results obtained for the whole group: F=5.131, p=0.001. This statistical design is able to explain 36.6% of the variation of test anxiety (Adjusted R square=0.366). The two coefficients that influence the variation of test anxiety were, as well, the RAVEN Test scores (p=0.000) and the Social Phobia Questionnaire scores (p=0.000). The differences between the Beta coefficients for the two variables were again similar (0.572 for the Social Phobia Questionnaire and -0.489 for the RAVEN Test), with a slightly higher value obtained for the Social Phobia Questionnaire this time. The Beta coefficient signs were the same as in the other regression equation.
Test anxiety represents a current interest disorder. Either it will remain a subtype of social anxiety, as it is currently classified, or it will become an independent entity, its increased incidence within the population places it among the most frequent types of anxiety, making its detection and finding appropriate therapeutic methods extremely important.
The current study shows the close relationship between test anxiety and social anxiety (an increased social anxiety was associated to an increased test anxiety and vice versa). But not only social anxiety had a contribution in developing test anxiety. The subject’s cognitive level contributed to the same extent, the relationship being a reverse one (a good cognitive level was associated to a low test anxiety while a poor cognitive level associated an important level of test anxiety). This relationship was statistically proven both globally and on the group formed of students with good academic achievements (for this subgroup the relationship had a higher intensity). From this we can deduct that besides cognitive levels, social pressure has an influence as well (for the subgroup formed of students coming from a high school with low academic achievements the relationship between test anxiety and cognitive levels or social anxiety could not be proven).
Supplementary studies, using more complex analyzing tools as well as groups formed of a higher number of subjects, with a superior randomization are necessary to be able to observe what other variables influence test anxiety (the current study could not prove a relationship between test anxiety and gender, age, parents’ marital status, parents’ education, religious affiliation).
- There is a close relationship between test anxiety and social anxiety (proportional relationship).
- The cognitive level influences as well as social anxiety the presence of test anxiety.
- The influence of factors is a cumulative effect, their influence being conditioned by the presence of social pressure to achieve high academic performance.
- Susan M. Bogels, Lynn Alden, Deborah C. Beidel, Lee Anna Clark, Daniel S. Pine, Murray B. Stein and Marisol Voncken DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY 27 : 168–189 (2010) SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR THE DSM-V
- Spielberger, C.D., & Sarason, I.G. (Ed.).(1985). Stress and anxiety (Vol. 9). Washington: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.
- J Abnorm Child Psychol. 1988 Jun;16(3):275-87. Comorbidity of test anxiety and other anxiety disorders in children. Beidel DC, Turner SM. Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania 15213.
- Karestan C. Koenen, Ph.D., Terrie E. Moffitt, Ph.D., Andrea L. Roberts, Ph.D., Laurie T. Martin, Sc.D., M.P.H., Laura Kubzansky, Ph.D., M.P.H., HonaLee Harrington, B.A., Richie Poulton, Ph.D., and Avshalom Caspi, Ph.D. Childhood IQ and Adult Mental Disorders: A Test of the Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis.
Pediatric Psychiatry Clinic, Cluj-Napoca, Ospătăriei Str. NN, Cluj-Napoca, Cluj, tel.: 0264/428491