Memory and Test Anxiety

It is difficult to separate the study of memory from the study of intelligence, because all too often it is assumed that intelligent people will automatically do better on tests. But there are other important aspects of memory, such as the role of paying attention during the presentation of information we need to store in memory and the influence of psychological factors in the retrieval of information.

In this case, let s consider test anxiety, something which can affect both a student s attention during memory formation and the student s psychological state during memory recovery. Clawson et al. examined test anxiety as a possible basis for racial differences in standardized test scores (the tests were similar to the SAT or ACT). The students lived in the same town, had gone to school together (it was a fairly small town), and there was no difference in grade point average between the black and white students. However, the black students scored significantly worse on the standardized math and language tests. They also had higher test anxiety scores. Of course, the white students with high test anxiety scores also scored poorly on the standardized tests. In a second study, Guida and Ludlow provided similar results for inner-city blacks and students from Chile.

So what s happening here? Why are black students (and some other minority groups) in America experiencing so much more test anxiety even when they sometimes have good grades? What does this tell us about standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, or others? What stage(s) of memory do you think test anxiety is most likely to affect (remember, test anxiety can occur when you study, not just when you sit down to take the test)?