Book Review—


Test Anxiety Guide Offers Calm Alternatives

Peg Kennedy, Development Support Specialist, Olney Central College

Robinson, IL

An exciting soft-bound workbook on test anxiety has been recently published by Richard Cooper, PhD, founder of Center for Alternative Learning, and Carole Champlin, MA, Program Director of Liberal Studies ad Psychology at Harcum College in Pennsylvania.


Test anxiety is a serious issue among many students and needs to be approached systematically in an attempt to help students overcome any problem they may have with it. 


This is just the book to do it. 


Rich Cooper shares techniques from his new publication Test Anxiety Student Manual

Filled with questionnaires and charts to help students become aware of their own anxiety levels, the book can be used by an individual student alone or with the assistance of a teacher, who can use the accompanying Teacher Guide as a resource.  Charts and forms help the individual to analyze his own reactions in a variety of testing situations.


The authors describe “everyday stressors” and ask the readers to rate their own stressors. These are then ranked on the Everyday Stress Meter that is designed similar to a speedometer. This is a great visual tool to help the students truly get a good picture of their own anxiety levels. On the left: 0 = unbothered; 1 = somewhat irritated; 2 = irritated; 3 angry; 4 very angry; 5 rage.


Next students will fill out a questionnaire, giving their own Stress History. It is basically short answers, a couple of sentences. Another list is for major stressors or crisis situations the students have experienced, and then places that on the Crisis Meter, which measures:  1 = focused (peak performance); 2 = great strain but capable; 3 = freeze momentarily then act; 4 = unfocused, error prone; 5 = immobilized. The authors are careful to caution the individual that ranking in the immobilized category might call for consulting a professional for further help.


The section on the Nature of Anxiety differentiates between “realistic anxiety” and “neurotic or everyday anxiety” with the focus on the latter. It is triggered by the evolutionary “fight or flight” response when adrenaline arises. This was a response that was needed for survival for the caveman, but today, most people don’t need all that energy, but “the energy arises anyway in certain stressful situations. The symptoms are rapid heartbeat, increased pulse rate, sweaty palms, or attention to everything going on around us.” All this extra energy, when not used physically, can be an obstacle to performance, especially in a situation in which the person is asked “to sit quietly, concentrate, think, and write correct answers.” Occasionally, this can result in a full-fledged panic attack.


The author’s point out that test anxiety is “real” and can appear in many forms:  sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, nausea, headache, difficulty swallowing, or mind going blank.  These are all “expressions of real fear.”


It is also pointed out that some “anxiety can be an advantage—because it makes people more attentive to the immediate task, and gives them the extra energy (adrenaline) needed to complete an exam/test/physical challenge successfully. Telling a person who has “real” anxiety to “calm down and take the test” is not helpful and next to impossible.


The exercises in the workbook will assist the individual in analyzing and understanding his own personal anxieties and responses to stress, making him better able to advocate for himself when faced with these situations.


Continuing with the use the speedometer-style visual, there is a Test Anxiety Meter, on which the students can rank their own anxiety levels as:  1 = very low; 2 =low; 3= medium; 4 = high; 5 = very high. 


Avoidance is “one way that people react to stress.” The last meter is one on which students can rank their own Avoidance Behaviors from 0-5:  0 = positive; 1 = mild; 2 = significant; 3 = limiting; 4 = excessive; 5 = dangerous.


It is stressed by the authors that, “These exercises are not tests; they are opportunities…To become more aware of physical behaviors and emotions that you may have interpreted as symptoms of illness, temporary annoyances, unimportant blips on your personal radar, or even as figments of your imagination.”


Part II of this amazing little book is a discussion and exercises on stress-reducing techniques. “Understanding stress and anxiety is the first step. Developing the ability to cope with stress before it produces the symptoms of anxiety is the next step.” 


While the techniques for dealing with stress differ from individual to individual, the ones that are covered are: desensitization, affirmations, self-talk, reframing, visualization, self-awareness, goal-setting, relaxation, progressive relaxation, study skills, test taking techniques, test question analysis, and test accommodations for individuals who have learning disabilities.


The accompanying teacher’s guide contains all the pages that are in the students’ copy in addition to pages printed on yellow paper for the use by the teacher. In the first part, the guide is meant as an additional tool. Although any teacher may have had moments of test anxiety herself, she may never have experienced it to the severity that many students do. There is an exercise that guides the teacher to the “brink” of panic, giving her that “aha moment” of what her students experience during an attack. In Part II, the yellow sheets are for the instructor to try the various techniques prior to guiding the students through them, giving the instructor a greater sense of the process. 


Test Anxiety by Cooper and Champlin is a must for teachers, parents, students, and other educational professionals. It is quite reasonably priced (Student Manual $5, Teacher’s Guide $9), but it’s worth a million!