Students Experience High Levels of Testing Anxiety After Remote Learning

The clock seems to tick faster and faster as time runs out in the class period. The warm sweat tears down your face as you become frightened about not being able to finish the exam. Listening to the pencil write furiously in the quiet classroom while examining the small words on the paper, you realize your brain is not able to process anything as your fear of failing increases. 

Francis Lewis students were welcomed back to in person learning last year and this year with elevated levels of testing anxiety after their experience of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Compared to pre-pandemic, I’d say my testing anxiety has been impacted a decent amount,” junior Mannat Bahl said. “I get more worried about tests now because grading was definitely much less harsh during online learning than it is now.”

A survey conducted with more than 10,000 students in 12 high schools across the United States by NBC News found that students who’d spent some time in the classroom reported lower rates of stress and worry than their online peers during the pandemic.

“I have testing anxiety on a few exams that I believe are very convoluted and complex,” junior Jessica Chen said. “This leads me usually into getting below average grades which can affect my overall performance, which decreases.”

During the pandemic, many students were used to using their phones to look up test answers. Now that students are unable to look up information on their phones, some students are feeling more stressed during exams.

“Pre-pandemic, I wasn’t really into using devices to search up things I didn’t know,” Chen said. “As we went online, I thought I had a privilege so I used a phone to search up various things I couldn’t get. Now, on an exam when I don’t know something, it makes me stressed out and makes me have a hard time functioning things which leads [to] test anxiety.”

Psychology teacher Ms. Miller also believes that the freedom students had to use technology at home during assessments creates a higher level of stress when taking exams in person.

“Testing anxiety has increased from remote learning because it is a lot harder for students to cheat in class,” Ms. Miller said.  “Now students have to actually work hard, which makes them nervous.”

Ms. Miller implements testing strategies during an exam to help students apply their knowledge to the material being assessed.

“I allow students to use notes on exams and make them review docs for exams in order to help them,” Ms. Miller said.  “I keep reminding them that they can do it and they will do it to encourage them. I let students even take test corrections to make up for their wrongs and fix mistakes.”

To keep their anxiety levels down, students should focus on taking deep breaths and try not to control their anxiety since it makes it worse, according to Ms. Miller.

“Students should focus more on breathing techniques and not to compact their anxiety because then they will freak out,” Ms. Miller added. “The more you try to control anxiety, the worse it gets. I would personally do things like counting to 10 to keep anxiety at its lowest points.”

Kristoffer Rhoads, a clinical neuropsychologist who treats patients at the UW Medicine Memory & Brain Wellness Center, also states how students should focus on breathing and various exercises to keep them calm and less frustrated during an exam.

“During an exam I would practice mountain breathing and pretend it’s not an exam, pretend it’s homework or class work,” Chen said. “This would usually help bring down stress levels for me. Breathing can help my brain function better so I don’t have a hard time reading questions and answering them.”

Additionally, test anxiety can result from students not being prepared enough for an exam. 

“I procrastinate a lot when it comes to studying,” Bahl said. “I’ll tell myself that I’m going to study a week in advance and end up just studying the night before tests. I look at my phone a few times. In relation to online learning, I think it has to do with not paying attention too much about test grades in classes and just being on your phone in class.”

Researchers recommend staying active during an exam by chewing gum or drinking water because sugar is a resource that helps a brain function.

“I tend to zone out if the topic is too boring,” Chen said. “I like to eat candy or chew gum while studying because it helps me remember the topic better, it can also help me reduce stress. Chewing gum or food when taking a test can help my brain function better and help me stay calm.”