Reducing Test Anxiety in Elementary School Children: Coloring Before a Test

Reducing Test Anxiety in Elementary School Children: Coloring Before a Test

Today, test anxiety is the most prevalent form of anxiety among K-12 students. Researchers Dana Carsley and Nancy L. Heath note that even one third of elementary school students experience test anxiety (1). Test anxiety has been linked to lower grades in school, grade retention, dropout, and mental health problems in students. Moreover, “effects of test anxiety can increase in severity if not treated at a young age” (1). In response to the increasing prevalence of test anxiety among students, school administrations and teachers have incorporated anxiety-reducing measures into schools and classrooms. However, Carsley and Heath remark that “these programs are typically lengthy and include several sessions that span over multiple weeks” (1). They argue that given the extent of test anxiety, it is essential that teachers are aware of effective, easy-to-implement anxiety-reducing strategies that require “no additional teacher training and minimal class time” (1).

In their paper, “Evaluating the effectiveness of a mindfulness coloring activity for test anxiety in children,” Carlsey and Heath examine how coloring activities reduce test anxiety in elementary school children. In particular, the authors investigate how coloring mandalas and free coloring relate to students’ states of mindfulness (being focused on and aware of the present moment), given that previous studies have shown that “higher levels of mindfulness have been shown to be associated with lower levels of test anxiety” (2).

For this study, the researchers collected data from 154 students in grades 4, 5, and 6. To induce test anxiety, the students were told they were going to take a spelling test and that their grades would be given to their parents, a method that has been shown in previous studies to elicit test-related anxiety (3). The students then answered a series of questions about their current levels of anxiety and their current states of mindfulness (STAIC-S and MAAS measures). After completing the initial measures of anxiety and mindfulness, students then engaged in a coloring activity for 15 minutes. Students were randomly assigned to either the mindful coloring group (coloring mandalas) or to the free coloring group. After coloring, students once again answered questions about their current levels of test-anxiety and mindfulness (completed the STAIC-S and MAAS measures). Finally, students completed a spelling test and their scores were subsequently given to their parents.

The Findings

“[P]articipants in both the mindful and free conditions reported significant reductions in test anxiety from pre- to post-intervention” (5-6).

    • Coloring mandalas and free coloring appear to be equally beneficial at reducing test anxiety for elementary school students (6).
    • No gender difference was found in the effectiveness of coloring on reducing test anxiety for participants in both groups (6).
  • Students who had lower levels of reported day-to-day mindfulness saw higher gains in mindfulness following the coloring activity (7).

“These findings demonstrate that participants with higher dispositional mindfulness are already able to experience mindfulness states without an intervention; therefore, the students with lower reports of dispositional mindfulness are primarily the students reporting benefits following the mindfulness activity” (7).

Given their finding that coloring activities can reduce students’ anxiety when administered before a test, Carsley and Heath argue that “educators should consider incorporating free draw/coloring activities in their classrooms for students” (7). This is an easy-to-implement strategy that requires no additional teacher training and it may very well help the mental wellbeing and academic performance of elementary school students who suffer from test anxiety.

Paper Title:  Evaluating the effectiveness of a mindfulness coloring activity for test anxiety in children

Authors: Dana Carsley and Nancy L. Heath (McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Full Paper:

Published: The Journal of Educational Research, May 2018

Professional Development:

Reducing Test Anxiety in Elementary School Students_ Coloring Before a Test

Photograph: Thanks to Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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