Sorry for the infrequent postings; this day job thing is eating up all my time! For this post I just have a simple question for you: Does “test anxiety” exist?
By putting the term in quotes, I am referring to test anxiety as a pathological condition that a person can have or not have, as opposed to the perfectly normal anxiety that everybody feels when they do something high-stakes, like taking a test. The reason I am asking this question is that I overheard a student in the hallway today saying something to the effect of, “I went to the doctor/psychologist and he told me I have test anxiety.” That struck me as a strange thing to say. Everybody gets nervous before performances, and so if everybody “has” it, does anybody really “have” it? And does having it phrased as a diagnosis of a condition, given by a medical professional or counselor mean that it’s really a kind of medical condition?
When I was in school, I was anxious before every test I ever took, but to me that just meant that I needed to prepare thoroughly. If test anxiety is a diagnosis of a condition, then it’s not a preparation issue but some kind of thing that is happening to me and there’s nothing I can do short of taking medicines and getting all kinds of special dispensations from teachers. That seems like a really big difference from the student’s standpoint.
By the way, you can very well substitute “math anxiety” for “test anxiety” and ask the same questions. So, comment away.
Interesting, well-produced, and potentially controversial video here:
“Good teaching is good teaching. And teachers don’t have to adjust their teaching to individual students’ learning styles.”
Update: Welcome, Carnival of Education readers. If you like this article, go have a look at my Top 12 Posts compilation page along with other articles about education, teaching, and math — and if you still like what you see, you can subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks!
I’ve heard a lot of the following kind of comment when I discuss curricular issues with people, whether in real life or in the blogosphere: “Sure, we’d love to teach [insert math topic here] to these kids, but they’re just not ready for that.” It came up in the comments on this post about putting geometry before algebra I in the K-12 curriculum (“Students aren’t ready to do abstract reasoning when they’re in the 7th grade”), and it’s come up in discussions I’ve had with colleagues about our freshman math offerings (we were discussing putting some treatment of Polya’s problem-solving heuristic in Calculus and giving students more difficult problems to solve, and the objection was that freshmen “just aren’t ready” for that).
I’m aware that there are psychological theories that establish how children attain different cognitive levels at different times of their lives, so there could be some basis for this idea. But a lot of the time when the “they’re not ready” argument comes up when talking about teaching, it’s just sounds like low expectations and a desire to rationalize the student-faculty non-agression pact. What do you think? Is “they’re not ready” is a valid curricular design principle or just a cop-out?
Update: Alright, so the last question above is loaded. Let’s try it a little more fairly: When is the “they’re not ready” approach valid, and when is this just a cop-out? For example, obviously students who haven’t had algebra I aren’t ready to learn algebra II. But if someone says, for example, that freshmen aren’t ready for proofs, is that psychology talking or is it just low expectations? I’ve heard that last example in the form of “freshmen aren’t emotionally ready” to handle lots of difficult problems, and I strongly suspect that that’s not based on sound cognitive psychology. But I could be wrong.