The effects of test anxiety on Paly students

Imagine looking at a blank test sheet. You scan the page and adjust your focus onto the first question, Name. Putting your pencil to the paper, you fill in the answer and hope that all of your studying allows you to answer that question correctly.

Finals week is just around the corner and with this high stress season comes a feeling that many Palo Alto High School students are familiar with — test anxiety. Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety where students experience stress during testing situations, usually causing poor performance. Although this form of anxiety is very harmful, some may argue that there is more to the anxiety surrounding finals week — not only is there test anxiety, but there is also score anxiety. Score anxiety is a form of anxiety relating to angst towards the resulting test score. Having such anxiety surrounding the student population of Paly is unhealthy as it may be taking the shape of harm, rather than the intended shape of beneficial pressure.

Test anxiety is more common than students realize, arising from a combination of several different factors. Because Paly has such a high standard for test performance, there is added stress on students to do well.

Sophomore Alice Zhao hints towards a feeling of helplessness that is commonly felt by the student body. “The worst part about test taking is realizing that you learned how to get the answer in class, but forgetting what you learned,” Zhao said. “When this happens, teachers will argue that the material was taught in class and that you have no reason to not know it.”

Many students feel lost while they are preparing for exams because they do not know what material to study. Zhao realizes that during testing, she may figure out that she did not study the right material, and regrets not studying the right material after the test, but that she has no power to say she was never taught the material in class.

Score anxiety, on the other hand, is often caused by the waiting game that begins the second you finish a test and ends the moment the teacher uploads the grades to Infinite Campus, or hands the tests back in class.

The time between the test and the receiving of the grade can seem like an eternity. Thoughts surrounding the exam can consume one’s thoughts and simply become the only thing one thinks about, and becomes almost obsessed with.

Sophomore Josh Code struggles when anticipating his test grades.

“The worst part about waiting for test grades is overthinking,” Code said. “When I’m waiting for the grades to be entered in I usually imagine every single mistake I could have possibly made, which I’d say is pretty unhealthy.”

Common symptoms of score anxiety are constantly refreshing of Infinite Campus, or even talking to the teacher and asking about the test outside of class. Score anxiety can also be exacerbated by score sharing between students before some students receive their own score.

“Although score sharing is discouraged by teachers, students do it anyways to see how they rank amongst themselves, which puts a lot of pressure on them,” Zhao said.

However, some students don’t find a purpose in worrying about test scores. They believe that the score is already determined, so there is no reason to spend time feeling uncertain about it.

“I usually don’t know what to expect on the exam,” Zhao said. “But after I take a test, I don’t get score anxiety because it’s already out of my hands to decide how well I do.”

The factor of social pressure is more prevalent with score anxiety than test anxiety. Students tend to feel pressure from both their peers and their parents to achieve a good grade. This pressure stems from the comparison of students’ test scores. Students who receive a great grade will be more inclined to voice their score after a test, whereas students who performed poorly will be more reserved with their scores. The standard of performance set by peers and parents adds to a student’s score anxiety since failure to reach the set standard causes a fear of disappointment.

“After a test, I know my grades will show up on Infinite Campus, and then I will get a bad grade in the class,” freshman Grace Kitayama said. “If people find out my poor score, they will ask me if I need tutors or tell me that I should study more. Sometimes I worry more about the social aspect of test taking than getting into a good college.”

This concern for the approval of others obstructs students from keeping their eye on the real goal. Although the competition to score higher than a peer is good motivation, the stress brought on by score sharing, score anticipation, and test anxiety negatively affects students overall.

Paly is an extremely academic rigorous school that heavily emphasizes testing. An environment centered around exam performance creates pressure to do well all the time, which in turn encourages students to cheat, rather than to learn. Some students will go to any lengths just to achieve a good test score. Oftentimes, those who do go to such lengths end up negatively impacting themselves and others. For example, during the high pressure time of end-of-the-year finals last school year, a class’ test grades were cancelled due to cheating. Furthermore, the stress surrounding testing and scores sets students back; it places more emphasis on memorizing information, as opposed to learning the information. Not only do test and score anxiety cause particular individuals to resort to academically dishonest activities, but they also causes students to develop the unhealthy mentality of doing whatever they possibly can to score higher on tests that may not measure their true potential.

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