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Test Anxiety and Physiological Arousal: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Abstract

Test anxiety is a widespread and mostly detrimental emotion in learning and achievement settings. Thus, it is a construct of high interest for researchers and its measurement is an important issue. So far, test anxiety has typically been assessed using self-report measures. However, physiological measures (e.g., heart rate or skin conductance level) have gained increasing attention in educational research, as they allow for an objective and often continuous assessment of students’ physiological arousal (i.e., the physiological component of test anxiety) in real-life situations, such as a test. Although theoretically one would assume self-report measures of test anxiety and objective physiological measures would converge, empirical evidence is scarce and findings have been mixed. To achieve a more coherent picture of the relationship between these measures, this systematic review and meta-analysis investigated whether higher self-reported test anxiety is associated with expected increases in objectively measured physiological arousal. A systematic literature search yielded an initial 231 articles, and a structured selection process identified 29 eligible articles, comprising 31 studies, which met the specified inclusion criteria and provided sufficient information about the relationship under investigation. In line with theoretical models, in 21 out of the 31 included studies, there was a significant positive relationship between self-reported test anxiety and physiological arousal. The strengths of these correlations were of medium size. Moderators influencing the relation between these two measures are discussed, along with implications for the assessment of physiological data in future classroom-based research on test anxiety.

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Roos, AL., Goetz, T., Voracek, M. et al. Test Anxiety and Physiological Arousal: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Educ Psychol Rev 33, 579–618 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09543-z

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Keywords

  • Test anxiety
  • Physiological measures
  • Self-report
  • Systematic review
  • Meta-analysis