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The impact of a cognitive-behavioural program on test anxiety symptoms in high school students

Thompson, Karolyn (2003) The impact of a cognitive-behavioural program on test anxiety symptoms in high school students. Professional Doctorate thesis, Murdoch University.

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The current research project has addressed the issue of the stress and anxiety experienced by Australian senior high school students as they prepare to undertake their final year examinations. Two studies were conducted. The first study looked at the feelings experienced by senior high school students, resources available to them to assist with exam preparation, resources actually accessed, and the strategies used to cope with examinations and associated feelings. Focus group interviews were conducted with 14 Year 11 and 13 Year 12 students from a public senior high school in Perth, Western Australia. Results indicated that students tend to most frequently report using avoidance strategies to cope with preparing and undertaking examinations, supporting previous research findings (e.g., Zeidner, 1996).

The second study examined the effectiveness of a group based, cognitive behavioural program purposely designed to teach students strategies for coping specifically with test anxiety and also generalized anxiety symptoms. The program involved seven one-hour weekly sessions implemented with 31 Year 12 students who were undertaking their final year examinations. The program covered education about the nature and causes of stress and anxiety, relaxation training, cognitive restructuring, imaginal exposure and study skills training.

The pre- and post-intervention scores on the TAI and RCMAS were analyzed using 2 (group) x 2 (gender) x 3 (symptom severity level) full factorial repeated measures ANOVAS. At pre-intervention, there were no significant differences between the treatment (N=31) and control (N=6), except for RCMAS Worry and Over Sensitivity, whereby the treatment group had a higher mean score, consistent with the greater ratio of female to male participants in the treatment group compared to the control group. At post intervention, the treatment group had reduced scores from preintervention levels for TAI Worry and Emotionality, RCMAS Total Anxiety, Physiological, Worry and Over Sensitivity and the Social Issues and Concentration subscales. In contrast, the post-intervention scores for the control group for these measures had increased from pre-intervention levels. However, there was no significant main effect for Group. Anecdotal program evaluation results from the treatment group students revealed that relaxation training was considered the most helpful aspect of the program. In contrast, at-home practice activities were considered the least helpful. A majority of participating students also reported that they believed the program would help them to manage stress and anxiety associated with examinations and other life stressors.

Despite the lack of significant differences between the treatment and control groups in the current study, the pattern of results obtained generally followed that of previous research on the treatment of symptoms for test anxiety (e.g., Wessel & Mersch, 1994) and generalized anxiety (e.g., Kendall, 1994) employing a CBT approach. While the results of the current study may have been limited by the relatively small sample sizes of the treatment and control groups, the short- and longterm benefits of providing training in appropriate coping strategies for test anxiety, such as those involved in cognitive behavioural intervention, are further highlighted.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Supervisor(s): Dziurawiec, Suzanne
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