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Langara’s psychology department starts to study test anxiety

Psychology chair Erin Skinner hopes to start a long-term study on how students exhibit stress when taking tests

Psychology depatment chair Erin Skinner in her office. Photo by Sasha Zeidler.
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Reported by Sasha Zeidler

With final projects piling up and exam season quickly approaching, Langara College’s psychology department is spearheading a study focused on test anxiety.

The centre of the study is attention bias in test-anxious students, the theory that students under stress will focus on their worry and fear rather than on the test or exam in front of them. Langara’s psychology department chair, Erin Skinner, will present her research plan at the Scholarship Cafe on March 30, an event that allows Langara researchers to present their projects and findings.

Sarah Hamid-Balma, director of mental health promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division.

“It’s a mental health problem. People have so much fear of failure that it can really take away from their quality of life,” Skinner said. “I am interested in looking at what is going on with test anxiety, how we can alleviate it, as well as can we shift our culture to a less performance-based evaluative culture.”

What the study hopes to find

The long-term study, currently in ethical review, will highlight two types of test-anxious students: those who have fear leading up to the exam but overcompensate by studying, and those who cannot recall information during the test itself. Skinner believes there may be cognitive differences between these types of anxieties and hopes to report on her initial findings by next year.

When the study will take place

Skinner hopes to begin her study in May by focusing on attention, memory and memory retrieval failure before developing strategies to help mitigate test anxiety.

Sarah Hamid-Balma, director of mental health promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division, said it is important for students to seek help early.

“There is usually anxiety in other parts of their life. It is really rare to just see it [in tests], but it is possible. It is important to tell someone,” she said.

The presentation information

The Scholarship Cafe, organized by Kevin Smith, will be held in Building T from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I am super excited by everyone’s enthusiasm for the research they’re bringing forward,” Smith said. “As the coordinator, I’m really happy to be packaging it all together.”

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