Several meta-analyses, which summarize the evidence from many studies, have found higher achievement when students take quizzes instead of, say, reviewing notes or rereading a book chapter. “There’s decades and decades of research showing that taking practice tests will actually improve your learning,” said David Shanks, a professor of psychology and deputy dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences at University College London.
Still, many students get overwhelmed during tests. Shanks and a team of four researchers wanted to find out whether quizzes exacerbate test anxiety. The team collected 24 studies that measured students’ test anxiety and found that, on average, practice tests and quizzes not only improved academic achievement, but also ended up reducing test anxiety. Their meta-analysis was published in Educational Psychology Review in August 2023.
Shanks says quizzes can be a “gentle” way to help students face challenges.
“It’s not like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool,” said Shanks. “It’s like being put very gently into the shallow end. And then the next time a little bit deeper, and then a little bit deeper. And so the possibility of becoming properly afraid just never arises.”
Why test anxiety diminishes is unclear. It could be because students are learning to tolerate testing conditions through repeated exposure, as Shanks described. Or it could be because quizzes are helping students master the material and perform better on the final exam. We tend to be less anxious about things we’re good at. Unfortunately, the underlying studies didn’t collect the data that could resolve this academic debate.