When done right, offering online testing for exams can reduce student stress and create a more equitable learning environment.

3 ways to reduce online testing anxiety

When done right, offering online proctored exams can reduce student stress and create a more equitable learning environment

The continuation of online higher education and remote college course learning, teaching, and testing has been a game-changer for institutions, instructors, and students. Not being physically in the classroom has opened the door to flexible learning models and greater accommodations for all types of students.

But, for some, it has also changed when and how stress occurs. Many students experience test anxiety, both for in-class testing and remote testing. But proctored online testing can surface new stressors that students haven’t experienced before.  

Taking tests online instead of in-person should not change or add to the stress or anxiety of test-taking. But any time a new process is introduced or there are changes to how a test is deployed or monitored, these actions can understandably trigger stress, anxiety, questions, and concerns.

To head this off, it’s important that institutions and instructors equip students with information related to remote testing, proctor interactions, and how the technology works–well before any exam. Similarly, proctors must be properly trained to identify and practice ways to help students feel confident and comfortable.  

With the right foundation in place, online exams can be something that students look forward to, rather than dread. Here are three ways to help create a test environment that reduces stress and anxiety and empowers students to be their very best during online exams.

1. Give students confidence in the process

Test anxiety before a proctored exam is often tied to uncertainties in the process. Until their first proctored test experience, students simply don’t know what to expect. They have lots of questions. How does the technology work? What behavior causes a test to be flagged? Can I go to the bathroom if I need to? Will I get kicked out of a test and need to start over?

All these uncertainties are easy to address. But proper planning and documentation is required. At the University of Florida Warrington College of Business, university leaders developed a robust proctored exam page where students can read about the proctoring platform and watch an instructional video about how to get from the school’s Canvas LMS to a quiz or test. It also includes a link to the Chrome extension and helpful hints about how to authenticate your identity on the platform and perform a room scan.

Offering practice exams is another great way to alleviate undue stress when using proctored exams. Make sure to offer practice exams early in each semester to account for new students. During the practice exam, showing how a live proctor might jump in and interact with a student is also beneficial. This helps students see that the proctor is there to help—not to accuse them of cheating.

By eliminating common concerns with the process, students can feel much more confident going into their first–and every–exam.

2. Help students understand what to do if the unexpected happens

We’ve all experienced internet connectivity issues or computer malfunctions at an inopportune time. And when stakes are high, as during testing, unexpected technology breakdowns can cause equally high levels of student stress and anxiety.

Let’s say a student is taking a proctored test during a blizzard because in-person classes have been canceled. But what happens if the power goes out mid-test? Students may assume that this will be counted as an exam failure. But in fact, institutions understand that technology issues are inevitable, and will allow students to either retake the exam or jump back in where they left off.

Students often also lack understanding of what consists of a “flaggable moment.” For example, reading a question out loud, animals or children making noise, looking up for a moment to think, or tapping a pen on a desk are all actions that many students think will get flagged. While actions may get flagged by the AI, it is ultimately up to the proctor or instructor to review flaggable items and decide whether or not the action constituted a violation. In the cases above, these actions would not impact the test or grade. Creating an FAQ that addresses these types of situations, like Nova Southeastern University did, can help students understand what happens if something disrupts the testing process.

3. Train proctors to be advocates, not adversaries

The role of the proctor is essential to online testing and it’s important that educational institutions train proctors to reduce test anxiety, rather than add to it.

Proctors should be able to spot physical behaviors indicating that a student is stressed, such as lip licking, excessive throat clearing, propping their head up or touching or rubbing their face.

When physical stress factors are identified, well-trained proctors can better understand how to interact with a student to help them regain their confidence. This includes approaching students in a helpful manner and using their proctor training and tools to alleviate the situation while decreasing the risk of confrontation. When a trained proctor helps de-escalate student stress and anxiety, they not only help the student get back to the exam quickly, but they provide a positive interaction that can have a lasting impact on reducing future anxiety.

Students may always experience some sort of test anxiety–after all, tests form the basis of most college experiences, and they are designed to challenge and measure learning. But providing tests online to support greater flexibility and accessibility should not create added stress. When done right, and when both students and proctors are properly prepared, offering online proctored exams can help educational institutions and instructors create a more equitable learning environment and set students up for academic success.

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