Anxiety Blockage and Recall Ability

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Pop Quizzes: Anxiety Blockage and Recall Ability Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines

Research has long suggested that the testing effect improves learning and retention of information. Testing and retesting students promotes the improvement of recall abilities and facilitates the conversion of tested information from the short-term memory to long-term memory (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006; Collins, Rasco, & Benassi, 2018; Halamish and Bjork, 2011). This discovery has made testing a powerful learning tool in the classroom; by increasing retrieval attempts students are studying for larger assessments more effectively than simply rereading class materials (Halamish and Bjork, 2011). Retrieval attempts such as quizzes vastly improve scores on tests when compared to restudying alone (Roediger and Karpicke, 2006).

Quizzes have become particularly popular tools for enlisting the benefits of the testing effect as the can be implemented more frequently than larger tests (Collins, Rasco, & Benassi). Quizzes are a practical method for reaping the benefits of the testing effect in the classroom because educators can test students on pertinent information throughout the course in preparation for tests and exam. However, the testing effect is often tested in a controlled setting and therefore does not take into consideration such factors as test anxiety (Khanna, 2015). While the testing effect has been deemed effective tools for learning, it is a reality in the realm of education that some students feel particularly anxious regarding assessments like quizzes and tests. However, stress is not simply a negative feeling that a student may associate with testing, it can actually impede their ability to recall relevant information (Covington and Omelich, 1987; Benjamin, McKeachie, Lin, & Holinger. 1981; Hinze and Rapp, 2014). Instead of focusing efforts into recalling information, oftentimes when students are anxious they concentrate more on their own feelings of worry and anxiety (Benjamin et al., 1981; Covington and Omelich, 1987). It is this misplacement of attention which ultimately leads to poor performance on assessments. Evidence even goes as far as to suggest that anxiety can reverse the benefits associated with the testing effect, with quizzes negatively impacting final exams scores when students felt too much pressure regarding their performance (Hinze and Rapp, 2014). This indicates that testing anxiety does not so much impact the encoding of information, but blocks recall during assessments (Covington and Omelich, 1987). It is not that anxious students are not as motivated as their non-test anxious peers, instead test anxious students are unable to recall information during testing because their own feelings of anxiety are temporarily preventing them from retrieving the answers.

If testing is beneficial for long-term learning but test anxiety inhibits retrieval one must question the validity of surprise assessments such as pop quizzes. Often, pop quizzes are used to keep students engaged with reading and class materials as well as incentivize attendance. However, such assessments seem incongruent with present findings. While frequently testing students through smaller assessments such as quizzes improves performance on larger exams, it seems that the unexpected nature of pop quizzes would increase anxiety. Even if a student does not experience what researchers have defined as “test anxiety” the pop quiz itself would promote feelings of anxiety because the student did not anticipate the quiz (Khanna, 2015).

Because the quiz is not anticipated the student would feel unprepared and, in turn, worry about their performance. Whether or not a student tends to experience test anxiety, evidence suggests that pop quizzes induce anxiety and inhibit retrieval in most students because test anxious and non-test anxious students alike have prepared for the quiz (Khanna, 2015). Furthermore, when pop quizzes are the preferred method of preparing students for exams, course grades overall decrease because retrieval is not occuring. This aligns with present research because the more pressure a student feels in regards to an assignment the less impactful the testing effect will be (Hinze and Rapp, 2014). In this experiment I intend to study if pop quizzes are an effective method for testing knowledge and understanding of materials. I expect that because anxiety inhibits recall ability students who are given pop quizzes will not perform as well as their peers who are informed about the assessment. In addition, I will test each participant’s ability to recall tested information after the assessment to see if they experienced an anxiety block in their retrieval attempts. Because it has been suggested that test anxiety is not caused by a deficit in encoding information but because of misplaced focus, I would expect that participants who initially performed poorly on the pop quiz will be able to retrieve tested information that that they could not retrieve during the assessment. My goal is to find evidence which suggests that pop quizzes do not test whether or not the student knows class material, they tests whether or not they can overcome the anxiety of taking a pop quiz. Methods Participants

My participants will be comprised of twenty Moravian College undergraduate students who will be recruited via a signup sheet in the psychology lounge. Each condition of the study will have ten students. There will be no restrictions as to who can participate in the study as long as they are Moravian College undergraduate students. Because both groups would be random samples, any participant variables will be evenly distributed throughout the groups. Materials

The participants will be provided with a print out of reading from the Student Handbook from the Academic Code of Conduct. After the reading the students will be provided with a quiz on the plagiarism reading which will include a survey on anxiety. After the quiz, the students will engage in a relaxing activity in the form of a video titled “The Most Relaxing Film in the World”: Procedure All participants will be told they are going to be participating in an experiment about undergraduate student anxiety in regards to plagiarism and if ignorance towards plagiarism policies impacts the ethics of plagiarism punishment. Both groups will complete the testing phase of the experiment in a classroom. The control group, Group 1, will be told that they will be taking a quiz after their reading while the pop quiz group, Group 2, will not be informed of their assessment. After participants enter the testing room, readings will be distributed to each participant and they will have 10 minutes to read the material. After the reading period, the materials will be collected and the quiz will be administered. Participants will have 10 minutes to complete their quiz. Quiz questions will include questions like “is plagiarism always easy to avoid?” and “who should students seek out if they have questions about fair use policies? “. In addition to reading questions, there will also be an anxiety questionnaire at the end of the quiz. Questions will include inquiries like “how often do you worry you have accidentally plagiarized” and as well as a scale for students to rate their anxiety at the present moment.

After the quiz, all participants from both groups will leave the room they took the quiz in and move to a more social and relaxed environment, essentially a location opposite to the room they took the quiz in. Once in the secondary location, participants from both groups will watch a video that is meant to reduce their anxiety titled “The World’s Most Relaxing Film”. After they view the video, a structured interview will be conducted regarding the tested material from the reading. Participants will be prompted with general questions regarding quizzed content to see if their recall ability improves or remains the same. Questions will include questions like “What do you recall about foreign language classes and plagiarism” and “What do you recall about crib notes”. Upon the conclusion of the structured interview, participants will be informed of the true intentions of the experiment and debriefed.

Any concerns or questions they have will be answered and they will be referred to the appropriate resources if they are still in need of assistance. Results Upon conclusion of the experiment, initial quiz scores will be compared to the answers given in the structured interview. I expect that participants in Group 1 will outperform their counterparts in Group 2 because they were prepared to take a quiz. When participants are asked questions regarding quizzed material in the structured interview I expect to find that the participants in Group 1 will remain the same in their recall ability from the quiz to the interview. However, I expect Group 2 to improve but not surpass Group 1 from one condition to the next. I believe that Group 2 will improve because they learned the material but the anxiety induced by the pop quiz inhibited their recall ability. Therefore, when participants in Group 2 are asked questions regarding quizzed material outside of the confines of a pop quiz they will be able to produce answers during the interview that they could not during the quiz. Expected results are displayed in Figure 1. Figure 1. Group 1 surpassed Group 2 in initial performance, but the structured interview showed equal levels of comprehension between both groups. This suggests that the participants in Group 1 did not have an issue with encoding but rather experience an anxiety blockage which caused issues with retrieval and negatively impacted their performance.


  1. Benjamin, M., McKeachie, W.J., Lin, Y., and Holinger, D.P. (1981). Test anxiety: deficits in information processing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73(6), 816-824. doi:
  2. Collins, D.P., Rasco, D., and Benassi, V.A. (2018). Test-enhanced learning: does deeper processing on quizzes benefit exam performance? Teaching Psychology, 45(5), 235-238. doi: 10.1177/0098628318779262
  3. Covington, M.V. and Omelich, C.L. (1987). “I knew it cold before the exam” a test of the anxiety-blockage hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 393-400. doi:
  4. Halamish, V., and Bjork, R.A. (2011). When does testing enhance retention? A distribution-based interpretation of retrieval as a memory marker. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(4), 801-812. doi: 10.1037/a0023219
  5. Hinze, S.R., and Rapp, D.N. (2014). Retrieval (sometimes) enhances learning: performance pressure reduces the benefits of retrieval practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28(4), 597-606. doi: 10.1002/acp/3032
  6. Khanna, M. M. (2015). Ungraded pop quizzes: test-enhanced learning without all the anxiety. Teaching of Psychology, 42(2), 174-178. doi: 10.1177/0098628315573144
  7. Roediger, III, H. L., and Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychology Science, 17(3), 249-255. doi:
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