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Test Anxiety: Home

Information about test anxiety.

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is actually a type of performance anxiety, a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure is on to do well. For example, a person might experience performance anxiety when he or she is about to try out for the school play, sing a solo on stage, get into position at the pitcher's mound, step onto the platform in a diving meet, or go into an important interview.

What Causes It?

All anxiety is a reaction to anticipating something stressful.  This anticipation triggers the autonomic nervous system response (flight or fight). Like other anxiety reactions, test anxiety affects the body and the mind. When you are under stress, your body releases the hormone adrenaline, which prepares it for danger. That is what causes the physical symptoms, such as sweating, a pounding heart, and rapid breathing. These sensations might be mild or intense.

Just like other types of anxiety, test anxiety can create a vicious circle: The more a person focuses on the bad things that could happen, the stronger the feeling of anxiety becomes. This makes the person feel worse, and because his or her head is full of distracting thoughts and fears, it can increase the possibility that the person will do worse on the test.

Who is Likely to Have Test Anxiety?

People who worry a lot or who are perfectionists are more likely to have trouble with test anxiety. People with these traits sometimes find it hard to accept mistakes they might make or to get anything less than a perfect score. In this way, even without meaning to, they might really pressure themselves. Test anxiety is bound to thrive in a situation like this.

Students who are not prepared for tests but who care about doing well are also likely to experience test anxiety. If you know you are not prepared, it is logical to realize that you will be worried about doing poorly. People can feel unprepared for tests for several reasons: They may not have studied enough; they may find the material difficult; or, perhaps, they feel tired because they did not get enough sleep the night before.

What Can You Do?

Test anxiety can be a real problem when someone is so stressed out over a test that he or she cannot get past the nervousness to focus on the test questions and do his or her best work. Feeling ready to meet the challenge, though, can keep test anxiety at a manageable level.

  • Use a little stress to your advantage.  It is a signal that helps you prepare for something important that is about to happen. So, use it to your advantage. Instead of reacting to the stress by dreading, complaining, or fretting about the test with friends, take an active approach. Let stress remind you to study well in advance of a test.
  • Ask for help. Although a little test anxiety can be a good thing, an overdose of it is another story entirely. If sitting for a test gets you so stressed out that your mind goes blank and causes you to miss answers that you know, your level of test anxiety probably needs some attention.
  • Be prepared. Some students think that going to class is all it should take to learn and do well on tests. But, there is much more to learning than just hoping to soak everything up in class. That is why good study habits and skills are so important - and why no amount of cramming or studying the night before a test can take the place of the deeper level of learning that happens over time with regular study.
  • Watch what you are thinking.  Watch out for any negative messages you might be sending yourself about the test. They can contribute to your anxiety.
  • Accept mistakes. Another thing you can do is to learn to keep mistakes in perspective – especially if you are a perfectionist or you tend to be hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, and you may have even heard teachers or coaches refer to mistakes as "learning opportunities."          
  • Take care of yourself. It can help to learn ways to calm yourself down and get centered when you are tense or anxious. For some people, this might mean learning a simple breathing exercise. Practicing breathing exercises regularly (when you are not stressed out) helps your body see these exercises as a signal to relax.  And, of course, taking care of your health – such as getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating healthy before a test – can help keep your mind working at its best.  A recent study found that people who got 8 of hours sleep before taking a math test were nearly 3 times more likely to figure out the problem than people who stayed awake all night.


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