Test Anxiety Does Not Predict Exam Performance When Knowledge Is Controlled For: Strong Evidence Against the Interference Hypothesis of Test Anxiety

Psychol Sci. 2022 Dec;33(12):2073-2083. doi: 10.1177/09567976221119391. Epub 2022 Oct 11.


Do test-anxious students perform worse in exam situations than their knowledge would otherwise allow? We analyzed data from 309 medical students who prepared for a high-stakes exam using a digital learning platform. Using log files from the learning platform, we assessed students' level of knowledge throughout the exam-preparation phase and their average performance in mock exams that were completed shortly before the final exam. The results showed that test anxiety did not predict exam performance over and above students' knowledge level as assessed in the mock exams or during the exam-preparation phase. Leveraging additional ambulatory assessment data from the exam-preparation phase, we found that high trait test anxiety predicted smaller gains in knowledge over the exam-preparation phase. Taken together, these findings are incompatible with the hypothesis that test anxiety interferes with the retrieval of previously learned knowledge during the exam.

Keywords: academic achievement; cognitive interference; knowledge; open data; open materials; test anxiety.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Students, Medical*
  • Test Anxiety