Education Health News

SAT Scores and the Impact of Stress


SAT scores reveal a continued gender gap. With girls twice as likely to suffer from test anxiety, helping teens learn skills for reducing stress are making a difference.

SAT Scores
Girls are twice as likely to suffer from test-taking anxiety. SAT scores reveal a continued gender gap.

While 60 percent of A+ students taking the SAT last year were girls, boys continue to receive higher overall scores on the national standardized test. For the first time since 1994, girls’ average critical reading scores dropped below 500, according to data released by College Board.

The gender difference may be partially related to test anxiety. A national demonstration study found that girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from test anxiety. In a study of 980 10th-graders, researchers used heart-rate-variability measures to measure physical stress and anxiety during test taking.

The results showed more than three quarters of students who learned skills to reduce stress demonstrated a significant reduction in test anxiety. The study also found reducing test anxiety is associated with increased positive emotions and feelings and usually is associated with a reduction in negative feelings, emotional discord and difficulty in relationships.

The study confirmed a strong association between test anxiety and academic performance. The greater the level of test anxiety, the lower the test scores. On average, students with high levels of test anxiety scored 15 points lower in both math and English than those with low test anxiety.

For students and parents, the findings indicate helping teenagers learn to reduce stress and anxiety should be an important compliment to traditional test preparation. Exercises such as Emptying the Emotional Jug and Heart Math have been helpful tools for reducing anxiety that can interfere with performance on the SAT and other academic tests.