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Different but alike: comparing the consequences oftwo national testing systems and implications for test anxiety
Umeå University, Umeå School of Education (USE). Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Umeå Mathematics Education Research Centre (UMERC). (Umeå Forskningscentrum för matematikdidaktik (UFM))
Åbo Academy, Vaasa, Finland.
Åbo Academy, Vaasa, Finland.
Åbo Academy, Vaasa, Finland.
2012 (English)In: ECER 2012, European Conference of Educational Research, Cádiz, Spain, September 17-21, 2012, ECER , 2012Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Compared to other countries, Swedish pupils undergo a very small number of examinations during their compulsory education (OECD, 2005). However, a new assessment program that has recently been introduced in Sweden requires that pupils undergo an increased number of mandatory national examinations. In Finland, there are no national examinations taken by all pupils at a given stage in their basic education. Instead, schools are assessed on the basis of the test results of a random representative sample, typically in a single subject. Notwithstanding, Finnish pupils generally have more classroom examinations over the course of the school year. In addition to undergoing different numbers of exams during their time in school, pupils in Finland and Sweden also differ in terms of their levels of academic achievement, as measured by various international comparative studies in education. For several years, the ranking of Swedish pupils in these comparative exercises has fallen; there is a stable downwards trend in Sweden’s PISA rank. By contrast, Finnish pupils have maintained consistently high rankings (Kupiainen et al., 2009).

Both Finland and Sweden could be said to have “low-stakes” national assessment systems, although this may be changing in the case of Sweden. While the Swedish accountability system is not really standards-based, it has certain elements that incline it in that direction (Eklöf et al., 2009). High-stakes tests are generally perceived as being stressful, resulting in anxiety (O’Neil & Abedi, 1992). If pupils experience high stress connected to taking a test, i.e. test anxiety, it may adversely affect their performance. Research has shown that as group, highly test-anxious individuals perform less well on examinations (Zeidner, 2007).

On the other hand, it is possible that increased testing may boost educational performance. Studies have shown that tests influence pupils’ behaviour and stances, providing motivation and encouragement. Together with increases in test-taking skills, familiarity, and changes in attitudes (Connor-Greene, 2000), this seems to reduce test anxiety (Roediger et al., 2006).

Test anxiety is a growing problem in diverse geographical and cultural settings. There are over 1 000 publications on test anxiety (Stöber & Pekrun, 2004), but little attention has been paid to its occurrence in Sweden or Finland. Even though test anxiety levels do not seem to differ greatly between nations, some cultural groups score higher than others on test anxiety scales (Bodas et al., 2008). Accordingly test anxiety may be sensitive to cultural and socialization factors, and so it may be imprudent to simply generalize previous research findings to other national populations (Zeidner, 1990).

The objective of present study was thus to determine whether pupils in two unlike school settings, Sweden and Finland, differ in their experiences of test anxiety. Moreover, we examined the test anxiety instrument of Wren and Benson (2004) and their construct of test anxiety; a statistical comparison of its groups and items was undertaken to assess its utility for studying Swedish and Finnish pupils. The result is further discussed and related to Europe-wide patterns and trends in national testing systems.


103 girls (34 Swedish) and 69 boys (29 Swedish) between nine and ten years of age participated. The children came from eleven grade three classes (4 Swedish and 7 Finnish) from six different schools (2 Swedish). Finnish and Swedish are being speaking in both countries, and therefore both language groups were included from both countries. The CTAS (the Children’s Test Anxiety Scale: Wren & Benson, 2004) is a refined and modernized 30-item self-reported pen-and-paper instrument. The CTAS assesses an individual’s level of anxiety about testing on a 1-4 Likert scale, asking for participants’ response about how anxious they would feel in response to various settings and experiences. The CTAS is one of several widely-used test anxiety inventories that have satisfactory reliability coefficients and high practicality in naturalistic field settings (Zeidner, 2007). The test has three dimensions: thoughts; autonomic reactions; and off-task behaviors.

Expected Outcomes

No differences were found between the levels of test anxiety of Swedish and Finnish pupils. Additionally, low levels of test anxiety were reported. The CTAS was found to accurately measure the latent constructs of thoughts, autonomic reactions and off task behavior in both Finnish and Swedish boys and girls. Two items relating to worries about the test going badly indicated the existence of differences between the two nations. Swedish pupils experienced more worry about what would happen if they failed, whereas Finns worried more about what their parents would say if they failed. The great majority of national tests in Europe are mandatory for all pupils. The use of sample tests in Finland for the purpose of monitoring national performance is relatively widespread in Europe. Only a smaller number of countries, including Sweden, use the tests for formative purposes. Accordingly, either Finland or Sweden has the traditional objective with national testing which is to certify individual pupil attainment, a system being connected to stress. Sample tests are argued to not significantly increasing the burden on pupils (Eurydice, 2009). Consequently, the low reported levels of test anxiety here could be a result of current policies on national testing in respectively country.


Bodas, J., Ollendick, T. H., & Sovani, A. V. (2008). Test anxiety in Indian children: a cross-cultural perspective. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 21(4), 387-404. Connor-Greene P A (2000) Assessing and promoting student learning: blurring the line between teaching and testing Teaching of Psychology, 27(2), 84-88. Eklöf H., Andersson, E., & Wikström, C. (2009). The concept of accountability in education: does the Swedish school system apply? Cadmo, 2, 1-12. Eurydice. (2009). National testing of Pupils in Europe: Objectives, Organisation and Use of Results. Brussels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency P9 Eurydice, Retrieved March, 16, 2010, from Kupiainen, S., Hautamäki, J., & Karjalainen, T. (2009). The Finnish Education System and Pisa. Undervisningsministeriet, Ministry of Education, Helsinki University Print. O’Neil, H. F., Jr., & Abedi, J. (1992). Japanese children’s trait and state worry and emotionality in a high-stakes testing environment. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 5(3), 225-239. OECD. (2005). Education at a glance: OECD indicators. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Roediger, H. L. III, McDaniel, M., & McDermott, K. (2006). Test enhanced learning. APS Observer, 19(3). Stöber, J., & Pekrun, R. (2004). Advances in test anxiety research. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 17(3), 205-211. Wren, D. G., & Benson, J. (2004). Measuring test anxiety in children: scale development and internal construct validation. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 17(3), 227-240. Zeidner, M. (1990). Does test anxiety bias scholastic aptitude test performance by gender and social group? Journal of Personality Assessment, 55(1&2), 145-160. Zeidner, M. (2007). Test anxiety in educational contexts: Concepts, findings, and future directions. In P. A. Schutz, & R. Pekrun (Eds.), Emotion and education (165-184). San Diego, CA: Elsevier INC

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
ECER , 2012.
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Research subject
educational work
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-60028OAI: diva2:557607
ECER 2012, European Conference of Educational Research, The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All, Cádiz, Spain, September 17-21, 2012
Available from: 2012-09-28 Created: 2012-09-28 Last updated: 2014-04-10Bibliographically approved

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Nyroos, Mikaela
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Umeå School of Education (USE)Department of EducationUmeå Mathematics Education Research Centre (UMERC)
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