How Can Teachers Reduce Test Anxiety of L2 Learners?
Selami Aydin, Turkey
Selami Aydin is an assistant professor at ELT Department of Balikesir University. His research has mainly been in language testing, writing, technology, and individual differences in foreign language learning and teaching. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teachers' observations, students' experiences and research results indicate that test anxiety affects foreign / second language learning process negatively. This paper aims to give information on what L2 teachers can do to prevent test anxiety. However, before presenting recommendations on the role of teachers, it is necessary to define some general terms related to test anxiety, and to summarize the research results on the issue.
Anxiety is described as an uncomfortable emotional state in which one perceives danger, feels powerless and experiences tension in preparation for an expected danger. It is generally classified into three types: Trait, state and situation-specific anxiety.
- Trait anxiety, a more permanent disposition to be anxious, is viewed as an aspect of personality.
- State anxiety is an apprehension that is experienced at a particular moment in time as a response to a definite situation.
- Lastly, situation-specific anxiety is related to apprehension aroused at specific situations and events (Ellis, 1994).
Language anxiety is an effective factor that affects achievement in L2 (Gardner, 1985). It is a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of language learning process (Horwitz et al., 1986). Depending on the synthesis of research context on L2 anxiety, Gardner and MacIntyre (1993) describes it as the apprehension experienced when a situation requires the use of L2 with which the individual is not fully proficient. Thus, L2 anxiety is described as a situation-specific anxiety. It has three varieties: Communicative apprehension, fear of negative evaluation, and test anxiety.
- Communicative apprehension occurs when learners have immature communication skills although they have mature ideas and thoughts. It is a fear about real communication with others.
- Fear of negative evaluation occurs when L2 learners feel that they are not able to make the proper social impression. It is an apprehension about others' evaluation, avoidance of evaluative situations, and the expectation.
- Test anxiety is an apprehension over academic evaluation. It is a fear of failing in test situations and an unpleasant experience held consciously or unconsciously by learners in many situations. It is a type of anxiety concerning apprehension over academic evaluation which comes from a fear of failure (Horwitz and Young, 1991).
Related literature on test anxiety in L2 learning indicates that there are some factors that have an influence on students' reactions to language tests. These are perceptions of test validity, time limit, test techniques, test format, length, testing environment and clarity of test instructions (Young, 1999). Test validity is one of significant factors that provoke test anxiety. Young (1991) found that students experience anxiety if the test involves content that was not taught in class. Similarly, Horwitz and Young (1991) noted that tests in the lack of face validity led to higher anxiety and a negative attitude toward instruction. Furthermore, Madsen (in Young, 1999) investigated the effects of anxiety on ESL tests and found that high anxiety producing tests were also perceived by students as less valid.
Time limit is another factor that increases test anxiety and decreases performance. In a study conducted by Ohata (2005), learners sometimes felt pressured to think that they had to organize their ideas in a short period of time. Using an inappropriate test technique is one of the reasons that cause test anxiety. As Young (1991) reported, students felt anxious when they had studied hours for a test and then they found that question types with which they had no experience. In the study, it found that learners experienced anxiety with a particular test format. In addition to the anxiety provoking factors mentioned above, learners' capacity, task difficulty, the fear of getting bad grades, and lack of preparation for a test are the other factors that make learners worried.
Depending on the results of the studies presented above, some recommendations on the role of L2 teachers on reducing test anxiety of their students can be presented: First, as Young (1991) states that it is vital to "test what is taught", teachers should be aware of test validity and reflect the course content to tests. The second significant point is the use of objective scoring methods or objective testing to prevent test anxiety. For instance, Alcala (2002) advises that the use of two or three examiners as one is too subjective, and more than three can inhibit the students' performance. This kind of application is also helpful for both inter-rater reliability of test scores and prevention of test anxiety of learners as Speilberger (in Horwitz and Young, 1991) notes that an individual's objectively measured ability to perform the task can determine the effect of anxiety on performance in a test. Third, teachers should inform the students on the aims of the tests, content, test techniques, number of the questions before the administration as Alcala (2002) states teachers should familiarize students with the exam format, the type of rating system. In other words, students need clear explanations and sample items designed in different test techniques. Fourth, creating a low-stress language environment is believed to facilitate language learning by allowing students to concentrate on communication rather than being distracted by test anxiety.
Additionally, language teachers should acknowledge students' fears and find ways to evaluate students without inducing high levels of anxiety and while still maintaining a positive, effective climate as Huelsman (in Phillips, 1991) recommends that "something as simple as an encouraging smile before the test begins might diminish the ominous atmosphere." Namely, good communication and feedback before and after tests is beneficial to decrease test anxiety of learners. Good communication between teachers and learners allows learners to express their feelings and comments as Calvin (in Young, 1999) notes that giving students the opportunity to express how they felt about tests may have an effect on anxiety levels. In this sense, teachers should avoid comments that affect learners' motivation and concentration negatively. Fifth and last, as Alcala (2002) states that the anxious students "frequently fail to reach their potential. ... their marks do not fully reflect their knowledge of second language", teachers have to find ways such as assignments, group works, projects to confirm and compare their students' performance, knowledge and skills. As a result, L2 teachers who are in the center of test anxiety provoking issues also have the key role to decrease the level of test anxiety of L2 learners.
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