The effects of testwiseness and test-taking anxiety on L2 listening test performance: A visual (eye-tracking) and attentional investigation


Paula Winke

Hyojung Lim

Date Published:

1st March 2014

This study considered the extent to which test wiseness and test anxiety affected performance on the IELTS Listening test. It sought to address the following three research questions.

  1. What effects does L2-listening-test preparation have on (a) test scores, (b) test wiseness, and (c) test anxiety levels?
  2. Do the constructs of test wiseness and test anxiety relate?
  3. How do the effects of test preparation manifest themselves (i.e., in altered test-taking processes)?

To examine the effects of test-preparation, in the current study we adopted a pretest–posttest experimental design. We had three groups—two experimental and one control (63 learners total).

The two experimental groups included two types of test-taking strategy instruction (e.g. explicit vs. implicit); the explicit group being taught specific test-taking strategies and skills, while the implicit group focused on vocabulary instruction. Both groups equally practiced two sets of IELTSTM listening tests during the training sessions. Thus, the first (explicit) group took practice tests and received test-taking strategies instruction, and the second (implicit) group took practice tests but did not receive test-taking strategies instruction—that time was instead filled by vocabulary instruction. A third, control group took the pre and post-tests, but did not take practice tests. Rather, these individuals had conversational English classes between tests.

We measured all participants’ test wiseness through survey questionnaires before and after the training sessions. We also assessed test-taking anxiety at pre and post-testing to understand more completely if anxiety co-varies with test wiseness in explaining overall L2-listening-test-score variance.

In addition to retrospective verbal reports (e.g. stimulated recall) to comprehend test takers’ cognitive test-taking processes, we added eye-movement recordings to capture how test-takers process visual information while listening and to monitor how they manage their attentional resources while taking L2-listening tests.

We found that the effects of the three different test preparation types were essentially the same. We conclude that test preparation’s best function is perhaps familiarization with test format and the test’s item types, especially items that are relatively new or unknown to the test takers. Extensive test preparation is most likely not needed, especially when the test takers are adults used to taking standardized tests, as in the test takers were in this study. We found that test-taking anxiety was inversely related to L2-listening test performance, and this relationship remained stable regardless of the test taker’s type of test preparation.