Perceived Test Difficulty Experiment

Project Overview

For this project, my team and I wanted to focus on how to encourage energy savings. Our user group was young people who are living together in a home. The users were trying to conserve energy, save money, and be eco-friendly. They were also trying to accomplish these tasks while cooperating with other household members. A system was needed to address the numerous challenges users faced in trying to accomplish these goals.

Research Problem

The details...

Test performance plays a major role in a student’s academic success and future opportunities. The framing and description of an exam can affect student performance. Understanding these effects could improve test taking situations in the future.


A previous study showed that a strong positive correlation exists between test anxiety and worry, and a strong negative correlation exists between worry and performance (Hong, 2002).



  • Subjects will achieve higher scores when we disclose higher test averages and will achieve lower test scores when we disclose lower test averages.

  • The test administered without a prime will yield average scores higher than the tests with a negative prime and lower than the tests with a positive prime.


  • Tests were administered to participants in a survey format using an online survey platform called Qualtrics.

  • Participants were undergraduate students at Georgia Tech.

  • n=38 participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group that was told before taking the test that it had a high average score, one group that was told the test had a low average score, and a control group that did not receive a prime.

  • Participants then answered 15 multiple choice SAT practice questions that tested reading, writing, and analytical mathematics skills.

  • We conducted a one-way between-subjects ANOVA; the main effect of our testing condition was not statistically significant, F(2, 35) = .75, p = .481

  • The low significance of these results may be attributed to the low statistical power of our tests; that is, priming effects are often subtle.

  • However, the group primed with a high score scored highest, while the group primed with a low score scored lowest; while these observations are not statistically significant, they are in line with the results predicted by our hypotheses.



  • Statement of Findings

    • Our team observed that there was no significant relationship between perceived difficulty of examinations and one’s performance based upon that perceived difficulty.

    • However, the means did skew in the directions predicted.

  • Limitations

    • The setting in which we held our assessment was not a formalized classroom setting which may have taken away a level of tension from taking the exam.

    • There was no value offered to the exam itself to give it the same emotional or situational weight that academic examinations possess.

  • Future Work

    • In the future, we would benefit from working in a quieter and more realistic exam space under the pretense that the exam would impact some aspect of the participant’s academic career.

    • We would also benefit from strengthening the potency of the prime that is shown to participants: for example, showing the average test score in a graphic format, or having it announced by a researcher to the participants instead of being presented to participants only as text.


Hong, E. (2002). Test anxiety, perceived test difficulty, and test performance: temporal patterns of their effects. Learning and Individual Differences, 11(4), 431-447.

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