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Test Anxiety

Watch the Test Anxiety video (5 minutes)

Many students experience stress and anxiety when it comes time to prepare for tests. Even if you felt confident with the material before arriving for the test, anxiety may cause your mind to go blank once you put pencil to paper, resulting in a lower score than you were capable of. Or, perhaps you feel so much text anxiety, that you were never able to prepare fully for the test.

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests. Test anxiety can cause you to experience physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms including:

Physical Symptoms: excessive sweating, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, headache, feeling lightheaded or faint.

Emotional Symptoms: self-doubt, fear, stress, hopelessness, inadequacy, anger, disappointment, negative thoughts, and racing thoughts.

Behavioral/Cognitive Symptoms: difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively, comparing yourself to others, indecision, and procrastination. You may also experience memory lapse or mental block, which happens when your mind shuts down, and you forget everything you’ve studied.

Possible Causes of Test Anxiety

  1. Fear of failure. Students often feel so much pressure to do well that their fear of failure can derail their self-confidence, even if they have thoroughly prepared for the test.
  2. Lack of preparation. If a student has not adequately prepared for a test, they will likely feel stressed knowing that they may not perform well.
  3. Poor test history. Once a student has performed poorly on a test, they may develop anxiety and a negative mindset when it comes to testing.

Managing Test Anxiety

 Work to ensure success in the long run:

  • Put things into perspective. While your upcoming test is important, its outcome will not determine your entire future.
  • You will not be defined by one test. How well you do on a test has more to do with how effective your study strategies and test-taking strategies are, and much less on how intelligent or capable you are.
  • Be prepared. Start studying well in advance of the test. Try the 5-Day Study Plan.
  • Study effectively. Preparing for a test doesn’t begin the week you will take it. Studying regularly throughout the semester will help your test preparation process. Use one of these study strategies.
  • Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat well, get enough sleep, and add exercise or movement to your everyday routine. Don’t forget to have fun and relax.

 In the days leading up to the test:

  • Take practice tests. This will not only help in learning the material, but will help control your anxiety.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Getting enough sleep will help you to think clearly and will improve your ability to deal with anxiety.

On the day of the test:

  • Avoid having too much caffeine. Too much caffeine can have a negative effect on your nerves. High anxiety can actually increase the impact of caffeine, so don’t load up on caffeine on the day of your test.
  • Get organized. Gather all of your supplies and materials in advance.
  • Arrive early to the test site. Select a seat that has the fewest distractions.

During the test:

  • Try a relaxation technique. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths until you start to feel yourself relax (try inhaling and exhaling about 2-4 times). Consciously relax your muscles one at a time.
  • Take the test one question at a time. Read each question slowly, and more than once if necessary. Make sure you completely understand what the question is asking and remember to answer all parts, if applicable. If you don’t know the answer, take a guess and move on.
  • Ignore the people around you. Focus on yourself and what you are doing. Don’t compare yourself to others and what they are doing.