Researchers from the University of Kansas wanted a better understanding of the relationship between sleep, anxiety, and test performance, particularly how their mutual interactions unfold over time:
“(Nancy) Hamilton and graduate student co-authors Ronald Freche and Ian Carroll and undergraduates Yichi Zhang and Gabriella Zeller surveyed the sleep quality, anxiety levels and test scores for 167 students enrolled in a statistics class at KU. Participants completed an electronic battery of measures and filled out Sleep Mood Study Diaries during the mornings in the days before a statistics exam. Instructors confirmed exam scores.
“The study showed ‘sleep and anxiety feed one another’ and can hurt academic performance predictably.”
Was reported test anxiety a valid predictor of academic underperformance?
“We looked at test anxiety to determine whether that did predict who passed, and it was a predictor,” Hamilton said.
“It was a predictor even after controlling for students’ past performance and increased the likelihood of students failing in class. When you look at students who are especially anxious, it was almost a five-point difference in their score over students who had average levels of anxiety. This is not small potatoes. It’s the difference between a C-minus and a D. It’s the difference between a B-plus and an A-minus. It’s real.”
The researchers also explore how the ways students tend to cope with anxiety can further degrade sleep quality and how anxiety and associated sleep problems negatively impact educators as well as students. The most important takeaway, however, is the main one: test anxiety and sleep feed off one another, causing a negative effect on academic performance. In other words, for greater confidence and success on test day, get more–and better–sleep!
Learn more about this study at Test Anxiety and Poor Sleep: A Vicious Cycle.