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THE EFFECT OF EXAMINATION ANXIETY ON THE ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF STUDENTS IN TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS (A CASE STUDY OF TARABA STATE UNIVERSITY)
1.1 Background to the Study
Education transforms individuals into problem solvers who evince knowledge and are capable of utilizing the acquired knowledge to provide solutions to a wide range of problems. A good level of education confers on a student a corresponding high level of meta cognitive skills which in turn helps the student to have a good knowledge of himself as a cognitive processor, and knowledge of task and strategy variables necessary for effective learning (Hoe, Cheong and Yee, 2013).
However, sometimes, some students even at high educational level and with high level of meta cognitive skills inexplicably fail to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired during teaching and learning sessions. Such students attend classes, do their assignments but fail to perform in the day of reckoning (examinations) especially when the stakes are high. The students who have done all that is necessary but develop cold feet rather than confidence during examinations may be manifesting test anxiety.
Examination anxiety which is also called test anxiety in research literature is an uneasiness or apprehension experienced before, during and after examination because of concern, worry or fear of uncertainty. It was defined by Zeidner (2008) as a set of phenomenological, physiological and behavioural responses that accompany concern about possible negative consequences or failure on an examination or similar evaluative situation. It is feeling that someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or where the pressure to do well is intense.
Test anxiety is not entirely bad. In fact a low level of test anxiety is normal and necessary among the students in order to maintain focus and to galvanize them into action preparing, plotting and perfecting strategies that will guarantee optimum success in the examinations. It is needed to motivate and help the students to stay mentally and physically alert (Birjandi and Alemi, 2010).
However, when the anxiety or level of arousal exceeds that optimal level, the result is decline in performance. Hence the individual fails to fulfill the required obligation (15). Anxiety is an intrinsic part of human nature and if we learn why something happen it usually becomes less frightening (19). Psychologist made a distinction between two basic types pf copying strategies which includes problem fixed strategies and emotion focused strategy (32). Problem focused strategy attempts to deal with those aspects of environment that are responsible for stern and anxiety expression, that is dealing directly with the stress situation while emotion focused strategy tends to change the way a person thinks about a stressful situation.
It is when anxiety is in its severe form that some students experience genuine problem in academics. Their minds go blank, they experience the shakes, their hands go numb and they suffer from number of sudden disabilities associated with anxiety during examination. Academic performance is the outcome of education. It refers to the extent to which a known to be influenced by anxiety. (15) reported tat anxiety can occur as a result of stress, affecting learning and memory and also affecting academic performance negatively. According to (20) an optimal level of stress can enhance ability and improve academic performance.
Test anxiety or performance anxiety is common in nearly every aspect of human endeavour. Excellent players have deprived their countries or clubs of the opportunities to lift trophies during club or international sporting competitions by missing penalty shots as a result of performance anxiety.
A study conducted by DeCaro, Thomas, Albert and Beilock (2011) found that baseball players put into a high pressure condition had increased errors and decreased ability to recall details like directions in which their bats were moving. Some candidates seeking for jobs find it difficult to remember even their own names during interviews for highly paid jobs in such a situation where good performance counts and pressure to do well is palpable (Putwain, Woods and Symes, 2010). It is performance anxiety that makes a professor seat profusely and sounds incoherent almost at the point of collapsing while presenting inaugural lecture with intimidating audience in attendance.
In contrast to fear, anxiety involves a more general or diffused emotional reaction beyond simple fear – that is not of proportion to threats from the environment (2). Anxiety is defined by (33) and (1) as a complex psychological and behavioural state. (16) opined that anxiety, an emotional state of a human during life is both life-saving and also causes problems in the mental life of human beings. Humans have to always express inner struggles with different words, moods, feelings and emotions. Therefore in terms of the internal struggles, man uses expressions such as anxiety or worry. Anxiety is the most important factor of mental disorders based on the theory of psychological analysis. Freud called anxiety “emotional pain”. This means the same as if the body suffered from injury, inflammation and disease. Anxiety according to (21) is the price paid for civilization. (24), maintained that students’ stress is an unavoidable phenomenon which is often seen in the undergraduates identified such factors as physical, mental, family, job and social relationship as contributing to stress in these students which they noted can affect their academic performances negatively.
Anxiety surrounding examination and other specific situations affects approximately 25% to 40% of individuals (6), (9), (26), (33) with more females than males being affected. Anxiety interferes with school functioning only when an abnormal level is affected. Anxiety interferes with school functioning only when an abnormal level is reached, where as within normal range, being anxious does not automatically imply worst school functioning and indeed may to a certain extent be motivating and enhancing to academic performance (25). (10), ranked anxiety into four levels: mild, moderate, severe and panic anxiety.
- Mild level of anxiety is healthy, at this level, perceptual field is heighten, pupils dilate to accommodate much light, hearing and smelling intensified and sense of touch is highly sensitive. The individual is highly alert and attentive and learning and cognition is in its best state. This stage improves academic performance.
- Moderate level of anxiety on the other hand is unhealthy, the perceptional field of a person at this level is narrowed; individuals experiencing this level of anxiety have selective inattention. They have decreased focus and automatism can be observed as repetitive purposeless movements such as shaking of hands and feet, twirling of hair and tapping of fingers. Academic performance at this level depends on the individual’s ability to control the anxiety and carry out the assignment task.
- Severe level of anxiety is characterized by reduced perceptual field and a difficulty in communication. Gross motor movements, such as pacing are characteristic of people at this stage. Academic performance at this stage depends on the educator’s ability to recognize such individuals and provide a safe environment for them. Communication should be kept short and simple since communication is altered. Performance at this stage is reduced since most educators may not be able to provide such environment for the student.
- Panic level of anxiety is the worst and most severe form of anxiety. Total disruption of perceptual field is present. It is also characterized by loss of ability to communicate, loss of rational thought and total loss of conscious thinking. Academic performance at this level is very poor since the student will be unable to remember exactly what he/she is supposed to do.
Academic Performance of Students
Academic performance is a term used to describe the rating of a student following an examination. This is an important aspect of student’s life and is known to be influenced by various factors including anxiety and level of hard work/preparations done prior to the examination, (11). (30) opined that academic performance is measured by the standing rates of grades of students in every subject and students have their own attitude towards learning and achieving a high level of academic performance. In order for a student to succeed he needs to be armed with strategies and techniques that will supplement his desire to reach his goals. One way is to have an efficient and adaptive study habit free of anxiety. (31) stated that academic performance of nursing students can be determined by various academic and non-academic factors that include measures of previous academic performance such as college and high school grade point (GPA), scores of different aptitude tests and certain demographic characteristics such as age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, residential background and previous work experience. Furthermore, knowledge about predictors of academic performance help in developing strategies to facilitate students’ success in nursing education programmes and ensuring adequate training and provision of man power in the nursing profession (3), (13).
The effect of anxiety on academic performance as revealed by (11) is not always obvious and new research funded by the (8) suggests that there may be hidden costs. The research found that anxious individual find it harder to avoid distractions and take more time to turn their attention from one task to the next than their less anxious peers.
They further stated that a lot of negative effects of anxiety appear to be caused by difficulties with controlling attention. This suggest that training techniques designed to enhance attention, control the ability of students to ignore distractions and prevent the switching of their attention from one task to another could help anxious students to achieve their academic potential. Also showed that anxious individuals often perform at a comparable level to non-anxious ones but only do so at a greater cost in terms of effort or perhaps long term stress. This implies that it is important that teachers focus not only on whether a student’s academic performance seems to be satisfactory but also on how much effort the student had to put in to achieve that level of success. Anxious students may be trying desperately hard just to keep pace with academic demands and this could be at great psychological cost.
Anxiety and Academic performance of students.
Anxiety symptoms are extremely common in childhood and adolescence and can negatively interfere with general well-being, social life, academic performance and development of social skills. (25) stated that anxiety symptoms are associated with impairment of memory and cognitive functions and can contribute to poor school performance and academic failure. Anxiety as illustrated by (29), plays important roles in our lives. These include immediate reaction to stimuli following onset, anticipation and being prepared for important events in the future. It may be unpleasant, but it is often adaptive and in its absence one may have trouble as life becomes difficult to organize.
They further pointed out that anxiety can disrupt our lives if it becomes maladaptive. However, (18) explained that the consequences of anxiety during test or examination may limit the educational or vocational development and promotion through the educational system. It is normal for a student to feel anxious before a test or examination, but it becomes problematic when the level of anxiety is excess. (26) opined that a variety of factors can contribute to a student’s level of anxiety, examples include: past experience with courses, perception of course load, their ability to manage time, family issues and beliefs, which may have been shaped by a complex interplay of factors, may result to a unique reaction to a situation and lead to anxiety. The negative effects of anxiety can be explained by two models namely; the interference and the Learning Deficit Models. According to the interference model, anxious students are distracted due to task irrelevant cognitions and negative thoughts during examinations, while the learning deficit model proposes that it is student’s ineffective study habits during preparation for an examination that causes them to be anxious. Researchers found that anxious individuals find it harder to avoid distractions and take more time to turn their attention from one task to the next than their less anxious peers. This makes learning, reading, remembering and writing difficult affecting academic performance. Since, the anxious individuals perform at a comparable level to the non-anxious ones with a greater cost in terms of effort or perhaps long term stress; it is believed that students with high anxiety as well as those with moderate levels of anxiety will perform the best (7). (15), maintained that if an individual’s experience is negative, then anxiety level will be higher, leading to lower academic performance. Consequently, if an individual’s experience is positive, then the anxiety level will be lower leading to higher academic performance. From these investigations, it has been observed that high and lower levels of anxiety is related to poor academic performance while a moderate level of anxiety is related to optimum academic performance. Reported that chronic anxiety has a detrimental effect on academic success, every individual experience anxiety, although it most often ensues when the individual is uncertain about an outcome. (7) observed that about 30% of student nurses suffer from anxiety especially in specific situations including: test, examination and presentations. According to (4) the unfavourable effects of anxiety experienced by nursing students leads to the development of low self esteem over a period of time which adversely affects their academic performance.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Today in Nigeria, as in other parts the world, performance at examination is the yardstick for measuring, judging and selecting manpower, and for assessing students for promotion and the award of certificates. It is little wonder then that many students of tertiary institutions have anxiety particularly during examination and this has adversely affected their performance, this is because of the much emphasis laid on examination in schools and by job-offering agents of the society that students become convince that sustenance of life depends on their performance in examinations. They therefore cultivate fear of failures. Because of this failure, they resort to cheating during examinations, some even become involved in certificate racketeering and this attitude towards examination is a major element of the indiscipline of the wider society.
In Tertiary Institutions, clinical symptoms of test anxiety are made manifest when students start having abnormal rapid heart beats, sweating palms or body, shivering and spilling their ink during examination. There have been also cases of students going insane or collapsing in examination halls because of such anxiety, this posses a big problem to both schools and society as a whole.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
Having taken cognizance of the nature of the problem posed by examination anxiety, the purpose of this study is therefore to:
- Find out the effect of examination anxiety on the performance of student of tertiary institution (University).
- Identify the causes of anxiety over examination among students.
- To ascertain the extent of this anxiety on the students’ performance since anxiety is a psychological problem.
1.4 Research Question
The current research explore the following research questions:-
- What are the effects of examination anxiety on the performance of University students?
- What are the causes of anxiety over examinations among tertiary institutions?
- To what extent is anxiety on the students’ performance?
1.5 Statement of Hypothesis
The following null hypothesis were tested in this study:
Ho1: There is no significant predictive effect of examination anxiety on the academic performance of students.
Ho2: There is significant relationship between students’ examination anxiety and their academic performance.
Ho3: There is no significant difference in the academic performance of high and low academic anxiety groups of male and female students.
1.6 Significance of the Study
The work of assessing students’ learning is complex. In order to assess their work objectively, teachers and instructors use various methods and instruments, one of which is testing. We are aware that nowadays testing has become an inherent part of the society we live in. we are tested in order to drive a car, to practice a trade or profession, and to gain admission into schools. Consequently, many important discussions are based on test results. So, it is not surprising that anxiety during test has become a prominent problem in schools all over the world. The present study focuses primarily on test anxiety and its effects on academic performance of students in tertiary institutions, as well as its causes and impacts.
The findings of this empirical study have implications for helping professionals and academia in addressing the menace of test anxiety of the test students in higher education so that timely and effectively counseling and therapeutic interventions could be introduced in colleges and universities.
1.7 Scope of the Study
This present study covers the students of only one institution, namely the faculty of education and Arts and Social Science, in Taraba State University, Jalingo. Secondly, the study is limited to the subjects variables such as sex, grade and achievement scores of the students. Lastly, background education is no a variable.
The researcher believes that the students are normally affected by test anxiety, before but especially during the administration of test. Moreover, anxiety affects motivations, concentrations and achievement negatively, increases errors during the exams, creates problems recalling the material previously learned and prevents efficient study.
1.9 Operational Definition of Terms
Test Anxiety Inventory (TAI): Is a copyrighted instrument to measure test anxiety level of an individual.
Academic Performance: In Educational institutions, success is measured by academic performance or how well a student meets standards set out by the local government and the institution itself.
Anxiety: Is a kind of anxiety which is related to the impending danger from the environment of the academic institution including teacher in certain subjects like Mathematics, English etc