Despite being an institution not focused on grades/comparing ourselves to others, I’ve noticed that a lot of students (myself included) still have test anxiety. Test anxiety is when you feel anxious during, after, or leading up to an examination. For me, I’ve always felt this way. However, I’ve realized that a lot of social factors play into this feeling of anxiety before taking a test.
Seeing as I have my Sociology midterm today, I’m going to analyze testing with a sociological lens! I am, how they say, “killing two birds with one stone.”
So first off, institutions view tests as a necessary part of the way that professors can accurately measure how much someone has progressed in a course. Using Durkheim’s structure-functionalist theory, we can see that tests contribute to the macro level of a college’s functioning. Testing also creates group solidarity and collective effervesce, though things such as displayed feelings of anxiety about the exam, but knowing that we’re “all in this together.” Finally, by using tests to see how well students are retaining information, we are preserving the status quo by using the same methods over and over again. (Luckily for me/all of us in my class, Professor Nolan likes to spice things up and use other methods which give students other types of chances to demonstrate knowledge. I love her.)
You can also see testing as symbolic-interactonisim. Goffman is attributed to this! Students come into the testing space “costumed”- by this I mean we are all wearing comfy clothing. But! Students don’t look too comfy- we are the perfect level of comfy and put together. We want to show other people that we are competent social actors, and therefore we are trying to display the perfect level of “I’m chill and I got this” and “I am still nervous like you all, which makes me part of the group.” Through this we are also showing front stage behavior. We want to be presented as capable, but we may secretly be feeling nervous or anxiety beyond belief! What we keep inside and show when we’re not in front of a lot of people is called back stage behavior.
We can also apply Marx’s social-conflict approach. This one may not be as obvious as the others, but try to hear me out. Within our classes we have diversity of knowledge. This creates power and inequality within the classroom. For example, for some people, this test will be something totally new and strange to them- they would represent the proletariat. For other people, they’ve tested in this subject before and are now taking this course- they would represent the bourgeoisie. The social-conflict approach focuses on the macro-level structures and institutions in society that maintain inequality and how tension between groups manifests in social behavior. You may have a group of students who are resentful because they know another group of students doesn’t have to try as hard on the exam because they have already taken courses that allow them to perfect their thoughts and understanding. (Luckily, I don’t think thats a feeling within my class! I think we have more group solidarity than that.)
During a test we can also see Gemeinschaft. Gemeinschaft is having community and unity despite separating factors. As the class takes an exam, they are physically together within the room, but they are also mentally together, thinking about the exam and concepts of sociology. As we complete the exam, we are still thinking of each other and wishing each other well.
However, once we leave the testing room and begin to focus on our other things, we begin to exhibit Gesellschaft. Gesellschaft is when you are physically together, but not mentally. So after my exam when I go to the library to study for another exam, although al the students are in the library together, their minds are in a thousand other places, which doesn’t form mental community.
I’m feeling a lot better about my midterm, and I’m hoping you all got a fun sociological insight into the testing classroom.