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This study determined the correlates and consequences of stress and test anxiety in a large sample of students (980) and investigated the effects of HeartMath tools among 636 of them who were part of an experimental group compared to the other 344 who were in a control group. Teachers received instruction in the Resilient Educator®, which is designed to boost teacher performance, strengthen resiliency and improve school relationships, and students participated in the TestEdge® program, which features tools for reducing stress and test anxiety, improving academic performance and enhancing emotional and relational competence.
The study tested two major hypotheses:
- Enhanced competence in emotional management through learning and practicing the TestEdge tools would result in significant improvements in student emotional self-regulation and psychophysiological coherence. These changes would produce a marked reduction in test anxiety and generate a corresponding improvement in academic and test performance.
- There would be associated improvements in stress management, emotional stability, and overall student well-being, as well as improvements in classroom climate, organization and function.
We found consistent evidence of positive effects from the intervention on the students at the intervention school when their stress levels, emotional stability and the results of other measures were compared with those of students at the control school. Students in the experimental group had acquired the ability to self-activate the coherent state prior to taking an important test. This ability to self-activate coherence was associated with significant reductions in test anxiety and corresponding improvements in measures of emotional disposition.
Of those students at the intervention school who reported test anxiety at the beginning of the study, 75% showed reduced levels of test anxiety by the end of it. This reduction in mean test anxiety also was evident for more than three-quarters of all classrooms and it was observed throughout the academic ability spectrum. Additionally, there was a significant increase in test performance in the experimental group over the control group.
We expected the TestEdge intervention to significantly affect the quality of relations in the classroom by improving the socioemotional skills of all classroom members. Therefore, we added an observational component to the study in order to map the interactional patterns in the two schools and to observe teacher implementation of the TestEdge program with students.
Quotes, thematic analyses and discussion of trends are presented in the results section. The data suggest that when students self-manage their stress using coherence-building methods, it enables them to achieve both a significant reduction in test-related anxiety and a corresponding improvement in standardized test scores. Specifically, results from the post-intervention physiological experiment demonstrated that the students in the experimental group had acquired the ability to self-activate the coherent state prior to taking an important test. This ability to self-activate coherence was associated with significant reductions in test anxiety and corresponding improvements in measures of emotional disposition.