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Why Did Students Report Lower Test Anxiety during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Ewell et al. / Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education / April 2022

Test anxiety is a common experience shared by college students and is typically investigated in the context of traditional, face-to-face courses. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of universities, and many students had to rapidly shift to and balance the challenges of online learning. The authors investigated how the shift to online learning during the pandemic impacted trait (habitual) and state (momentary) test anxiety and whether there was variation across different demographic groups already vulnerable to performance gaps in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. Quantitative analyses revealed that trait and state test anxiety were lower in Spring 2020 (COVID semester) than in Spring 2019 and were higher overall in women than men. The authors did not find a difference in either trait or state anxiety in first-generation students or among persons excluded because of ethnicity or race. Qualitative analyses revealed that student priorities shifted away from coursework during Spring 2020. While students initially perceived the shift to online learning as beneficial, 1 month after the shift, students reported more difficulties studying and completing their coursework. Taken together, these results are the first to compare reports of test anxiety during a traditional, undisrupted semester to the semester where COVID-19 forced a sudden transition online.