Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Center for the Advancement of Education


The Borough of Manhattan Community College has a large English as a second language (ESL) population, and there is concern at the College about the low pass rate (20 - 25 percent per semester) of ESL students on the CUNY Writing Assessment Test (WAT). All students at the College are required to pass the WAT before they are allowed to enroll in freshman composition and to take courses in their major field. English as a second language students report performance inhibition on the WAT due to test anxiety. The first purpose of this study was to investigate some of the sources of this test anxiety, and the second purpose was to design and implement an intervention program to alleviate some of the negative effects of high levels of test anxiety on performance. In Fall, 1988, 96 students from the highest ESL level were asked to take the Test Attitude Inventory (TAI), to fill out a demographic survey, and to keep study logs. According to grade point average in non-remedial courses and scores on the Test Attitude Inventory, the 96 students were divided into five groups: (1) high anxiety/high achievement, (2) high anxiety/ low achievement, (3) low anxiety/high achievement, (4) low anxiety/low achievement, and (5) first-semester freshmen. Additionally, four students were randomly selected from each of the first four groups and interviewed in depth regarding their study habits and their thoughts and feelings about studying and taking exams. Finally, a behavior modification program was designed and implemented in Spring, 1989, to encourage the development: of productive study habits, task-focused attention deployment, and replacement of negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Fifty high-anxious students were selected for the intervention program based upon TAI scores; 25 were randomly assigned to the treatment group and 25 to the control group. It was hypothesized that high-anxious students would' spend less time studying and would report more thoughts and feelings relating to self-doubt and worry in study and exam sessions than would low-anxious students; it was further hypothesized that high-anxious students would have a lower success rate on the WAT, more class absences, and a lower class completion rate than low-anxious students; it was also hypothesized that demographic factors would be related to anxiety level and, finally, that the anxiety intervention program would lower anxiety and increase achievement and the course completion rate for members of the treatment group. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests showed no significant differences at the .05 level between anxiety achievement groups in number of reported hours of study and number of reported study sessions per week. High-anxious students reported significantly more thoughts and feelings related to self-doubt and worry in study and exam sessions, as predicted. High-anxious students also had a lower course completion rate, as predicted; however, attendance was related to achievement, rather than to anxiety as had been predicted. High-anxious groups tended to be older, female, Hispanic, ESL 084 repeaters, and possessors of GEDs rather than high school diplomas, as predicted. Finally, the WAT pass rate was somewhat higher for treatment group numbers, although the rate was not significant at the .05 level on a chi-square; however, according to results of a two-tailed t-test, there was no significant difference in anxiety level between treatment and control groups, so the intervention program did not lower anxiety level as had been predicted. Course completion rates for control and treatment groups were the same. On the basis of these results, it was concluded that high-anxious students had less effective study habits than low-anxious students possibly due to anxiety in the input stage and the use of superficial information processing and organization strategies; it was further concluded that high anxiety had deleterious effects on both performance and course completion rates. Finally, the intervention program was not successful in lowering anxiety rates, perhaps because of the critical role of the WAT as gatekeeper to career studies at BMCC. Recommendations were made for implementation of an anxiety intervention program, modification in WAT policy at BMCC, and further research on anxiety and achievement relating to specific sub-groups. Plans for diffusion of the results of this study through articles, workshops, and papers at local, regional, and national levels were discussed.

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