Test Anxiety Essay, Research Paper
Test AnxietySome students forget all that they have learned when they walk into a testing situation. We call this “test anxiety.” Psychologists explain “test anxiety” in several different ways, depending on the philosophy of the psychologist who addresses the problem. The following is an examination of how B.F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud, and Abraham Maslow would explain this disorder. A cursory look into the philosophy of Sigmund Freud, helps us understand the complex explanation he would provide to explain “test anxiety.” Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, developed a theory of personality and psychotherapy that emphasized unconscious motives and conflicts within an individual. He believed unconscious forces have more power over behavior than consciousness does (Wade and Tavris 14). Freud believed that three major systems: the id, the ego, and the superego, makeup the structure of personality. Human behavior is the result of how these three systems, each separately having their own role and foundation, relates to each other (Freud, 1905b, 1920/1960, 1923/1962). Conflict between these three systems results in a crisis, or problem in coping with reality; therefore, an individual uses “a defense mechanism, methods used by the ego to prevent unconscious anxiety or threatening thoughts from entering consciousness” (Wade and Tavris 453). Freud believed that personality develops in five stages, covering the first year of life into adulthood. “He called these stages psychosexual because he believed that psychological development depends on the changing expression of sexual energy in different parts of the body as the child matures” (Wade and Tavris 455). Freud would explain “test anxiety,” in a complicated series of possible causes, effects and results, all within the unconscious mind. He would begin his analysis by stating inappropriate personality development in the latency stage had occurred. The latency stage occurs from around the age of five (5) to puberty in an individual; this stage begins when an individual has started school and develops self-confidence (Wade and Tavris 455-56). Freud would question whether this lack of self-confidence was the root problem, or possibly it was merely shielding conflicts that had occurred in earlier stages. Furthermore, he would explain, in an attempt to protect the individual from this undeveloped self-confidence, or another conflict, defense mechanisms of the ego had taken over. Freud would assess defense mechanisms of repression, reaction formation, and possible denial was the result of these earlier conflicts. The student’s claim he had forgot all he had learned (answers to the test) was possibly repression. “In repression, a threatening idea, memory, or emotion is blocked from becoming conscious.” Of course, reaction formation is a possibility. Reaction formation is the feeling that causes unconscious anxiety to become conscious anxiety (Wade and Tavris 453). Our student claims he studied and knew all the answers before taking the test. This could be reaction formation, if in fact, the student had not studied at all. If Freud analyzed the student experiencing the “test anxiety” thoroughly, we would hear the student had undergone regression. Regression, Freud believed, is the structure of personality that becomes permanently halted, or fixated at the time a traumatic experience occurs; a sure sign would be if the student was biting his nails (Wade and Tavris 454). Freud would surely discuss denial somewhere in his evaluation. He would explain the student is experiencing conflicts between his id, ego and superego; the student is protecting the illusion of always passing tests and not accepting heB.F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner, the best known American Behaviorist (Wade and Tavris 447), would explain “test anxiety” quite different from Freud. He would not delve into the past looking for the answer, but would look at what he could observe; he would examine the external environment (Wade and Tavris 14). “For Skinner, the explanation of behavior was to be found by looking outside the individual rather than within, a position he continued to defend until his death in 1990.” Skinner felt the environment could and should be manipulated to alter behavior (Wade and Tavris 255). His explanation for “test anxiety” would be the student uses a self-handicapping strategy. If an individual with low self-esteem finds himself in a situation where he believes he will be evaluated, he learns to use his anxiety as an excuse for poor performance (Snyder 1990). “Self-handicappers place obstacles in the path of their own success. If they then fail, they can blame the failure on the handicap instead of lack of ability” (Wade and Tavris 447). This would be the student’s claim he completely forgot all the answers when he went in to take the test.
Skinner would focus on helping the student change his current behavior and attitudes rather than striving for an understanding of why they occur. He might even say our student never studied for the test, or if he did study, he did not study correctly or put in enough time. Abraham Maslow would take a separate view from Skinner or Freud’s explanation of “test anxiety.” “Human behavior, he said, is not completely determined by either unconscious dynamics or by the environment. People are capable of free will and therefore have the ability to make more of themselves than psychoanalysis (Freud), or behaviorism (Skinner) would predict” (Wade and Tavris 19). Abraham Maslow (1954/1970), a humanist psychologist, placed people’s motivational goals on a pyramid that he called hierarchy of needs. His hierarchy of needs was listed according to importance, with basic needs at the bottom and total fulfillments listed at the top. “The traits that Maslow thought was the most important were the qualities of the self-actualized person, the person who strives for a life that is meaningful, challenging and exciting. Personality development could be viewed ideally, as a gradual progression toward the state of self-actualization” (Wade and Tavris 468). Maslow would feel “test anxiety” was the result of our student’s self esteem being frustrated; self esteem would be a need lower than achievement; therefore, with a lower need not satisfied, a higher need like achievement would not be attainable (Wade and Tavris 468). He would feel our student should start over, gradually working up the ladder, filling lower needs first. This gradual climb would result in achieving the results of knowing the answers to the test and not losing them in memory. Maslow would sit with our student and discuss the student’s present and future goals; Maslow would not be concerned with the issues of why and how; those issues would be irrelevant. He would build up the self esteem of the student and lead him to realize he can control his own destiny. Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner and Abraham Maslow would each explain “test anxiety” quite differently. Freud would believe the answer to understanding was in the past. He would look at unconscious forces that were controlling the behavior of anxiety from the loss of memory. Skinner would look for his answer in the observable act. He would not be concerned with the past, but what effect the environment played on the problem in the present. Skinner would look for a more immediate solution that was within the control of the student. Maslow, on the other hand, would move to the future; what was the goal of the student? Was he putting to much importance on the test? Maslow would in essence be looking at the future, reviewing what had happened that was observable in the past, but redirecting the view of the future as holding the answer. If a student experiences “test anxiety,” forgetting all that they have learned when they walk into a testing situation, the answer is somewhere between Skinner and Maslow. Evaluating the situation and honestly answering questions that are only answerable by the student can provide a resolution that was simple from the beginning. Excuses for our failures, or inabilities are an easy way out, rather than being honest and facing the consequences of our actions, learning from our mistakes.