Background of the Study

Education is a vital instrument in every country in the world, and Nigeria is no exception. The Nigerian government stated clearly in the National Policy on Education that, education as an instrument could be used to meet the needs of people and determine the kind of society which would evolve. Furthermore, incorporated in the manual are the following aims and objectives for secondary education, which include: “to inspire students with a desire for self improvement and achievement of excellence; to provide trained manpower in the applied science; to raise a generation of people who can think and contribute to the development of the society” (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004:18). Specifically, science education is the bedrock of a realistic national development.

The term science links with nature. It is derived from the Latin word “Scienta” which means, “what is known, what is a fact, truth or certain”. Science involves the process of arriving at truth in nature (Onyishi, 2004). Okwunodulu (2008) explained that science helps to equip an individual with the basic qualities such as curiosity, objectivity, initiative and honesty required for survival and contribution to the development of society. The study of science in secondary school equips students with useful concepts, principles, theories and knowledge which enable them to face challenges of life after secondary school education. This is in accordance with the broad aims and objectives of secondary education which is to prepare individual for useful living within a society (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004:18).

These aims and objectives cannot be actualized if students are not interested in learning science in secondary schools and in performing well in both internal and external examinations. The governments at State and Federal level have been making effort to enhance the laerning of science in secondary schools. Her effort in the provision of science equipment, training and retraining of science teachers are geared towards promoting students’ motivation and achievement in science.

The word achievement is what someone has done successfully, especially using ones own effort and skill. Students’ achievement tests are used to describe students’ strength and difficulties at the time the test was given. For example, students’ achievement in science can be measured by the number of science courses enrolled in and the grade point average achieved at the end of the exams. Meanwhile, the effort a student puts in scientific study usually determines the level of achievement therein.

Science achievement is paramount in determining the relative position or rank of students with respect to their science performance. Anekwe (2006) defined science achievement as a test for measurement and comparison of skills among students. This is proficiency and knowledge demonstrated by an individual after learning has taken place. Students’ achievement in science is the degree of ability which they can attain in science subject and their will to achieve perfectly in those courses enrolled in and grade point average attained. Operationally, science achievement can be defined as how well a child accomplishes work in the science setting. It is becoming obvious that without a high level of students’ achievement in science, both the educational system and technology development in Nigeria stand to suffer.

In recent time, however, much concern is being expressed over the consistent poor achievement of students in science subjects in Nigeria and  Enugu state in particular with special reference to secondary school students in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State. The annual results of Senior Secondary Certificate Examination result (SSCE) conducted by West African Examination Council (WAEC) in 2010, 2011 and 2012 provided evidence of poor students’ achievement in science. For instance, the percentage of students’ failure in some science subjects like mathematics, chemistry and biology between 2010 and2012 are stipulated thus:  In 2010, only 39.27% had A1-C6 in chemistry while 23.54% had only passes and 37.19% failed. In 2011 May/ June WAEC,411,356 students sat for the exam, only 36.50% passed at credit level, while 22.23% had only passes and 41.27% fail in mathematics. Then in 2012 WAEC, a total number of 324,998 sat for exam, only 20.04% passed at credit level in biology, while 25.17% had ordinary pass and 26.60% failed woefully (Research and Statistic unit WAEC 2012).

A close observation of the statistics above reveals that a trend of poor achievement has not changed for better in science subjects. This recorded poor achievement is consistent despite the attention given to science education in the state by the government and some professional bodies. To this effect, the researcher has traced the cause of this consistent poor performance of students in science and attributed it to a number of factors. Some factors which are often teacher- related can be attributed to non-use of reinforcement strategy; attitude of some teachers to their job; poor attendance to lessons; lateness to school and poor method of teaching among others (Morakinyo, 2003).                                 Student factors are attributable to low level of science achievement, which are viewed from various angles like students low retention; lack of adequate preparation before exams; inadequate coverage of the science subject syllabus; inability to understand questions during exams and these eventually led to poor achievement of students in science subjects (Aremu & Sokan, 2003). Student-related factors are sometimes psychological which include anxiety.  Nwankwo (1990) stated that anxiety among other factors result in secondary school students’ truancy. Nwankwo pointed out that anxiety constitutes a big nuisance to some students.

Anxiety is an unpleasant emotional experience varying in degrees from mild unease to instant dread, associated with the anticipation of impending or future calamity or disaster. It is related to a feeling of threat, which has often little or valid external cause (Edebor, 2002). It is an emotional component in form of worry and restlessness. When this kind of unpleasant emotional experience manifests with regards to a test or assessment condition, it is regarded as test anxiety.

According to the Teigen (1994) test anxiety is the uneasiness, apprehension or nervousness felt by students who have a fear of failing an exam. It involves a combination of physiological over-arousal, worry and dread about test performance, and often interferes with normal learning and lowers test performance. This shows that observable anxiety behaviours can be noticed during examination, especially if one is not prepared for it. Characteristic of those behaviours might include perspiration, excessive movement and questioning of instructions. Every one becomes anxious from time to time (Haligin and Whitbourne, 2000).

Operationally, test anxiety is a fear that students encounter in the school environment especially during examination. Sometimes, it is normal and often helpful to keep the students mentally and physically alert. There are different factors that contribute to the development of test anxiety. One factor is self-concept, which is the overall sum of self-referent information that an individual has processed, stored and organized in a systematic manner (Freeman &Bendas-Jacob,1997). The self-concept can be viewed as an image of oneself. Another factor that contributes to the development of test anxiety is self-awareness. It is the feeling of being observed or evaluated by others. People’s perception of an individual, influences the individual’s performance. A more commonly recognized factor of test anxiety is the class room climate. Generally, people have the need to manipulate and control their surroundings to produce a comfortable environment. In a classroom setting, however, there may not be the opportunity to control the surroundings. This opens the door to the possibility of different levels of anxiety. The degree of arousal in relation to one’s adaptation level determines the manifestation of the positivity or negativity of an experience (Spielberg & Sarason, 1985).

Indeed, for many students, test anxiety is anxiety towards classroom test and examination; it is often extended to all evaluative tasks such as laboratory and workshop task. Such anxiety is very prominent among students (Nwankwo, 1996).  In tests, anxious children are more likely to perform poorly on task requiring new learning and on those administered in a highly evaluative manner (Billed, turner & Karan, 1994; DeRosa and Patalano, 1991). Anxiety over test performance has also been related to low self-esteem, and dependency (Yilodirim & Ergene 2003, Yildirin, Genctairim, Yalkin & Baydon, 2008). Students with low self-esteem and dependence tend to dwell on unfavorable attribute, rather than focusing on their strengths. Eysenck cited in Keoghi (2004) that test anxiety, especially worry, has an impact on science performance. This is because students who get pre-occupied with worries and task-irrelevant thoughts about test especially during exam period, may or may not perform creditably well to the best of their abilities in science subjects.  Moreover, Kheled and Haman (2009) conducted a similar research and found that students with low achievement in science have high test anxiety scores.  Students who are anxious, bored and fearful towards science examination usually perform poorly in science.