Test Anxiety

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a type of anxiety that can affect a test taker before, during, or after a test. It is an issue that many students deal with at one time or another. 

Anxiety is a normal human feeling that is part of life, and can often serve as a good form of adrenaline-- for instance, butterflies before making a speech, taking a test, or performing on stage. However, there are methods how to overcome nervousness and anxiety when they interfere with performance.

Test anxiety can also be experienced at varying levels. Slight exam stress can help by providing alertness, readiness, and helping you to concentrate. However, excessive exam anxiety can result in stress and negatively affect performance.

Test anxiety, just like other types of anxiety, tends to occur like a wave. It will increase from the time you first recognize it, come to a peak, and then naturally subside. If test-taking anxiety persists and becomes problematic, it is a good idea to seek assistance from the school counselor or other professional resource available in your area. Calming nerves through learned techniques can ease the tension associated with this type of anxiety and can help greatly in overcoming test anxiety.

What Causes Test Anxiety?

These are many obstacles that stand in the way of overcoming test anxiety, but the condition can be properly managed with the right care. It may be past experiences of blanking out on tests or the inability to readily retrieve answers to questions that can bring on an episode of test anxiety. It could also be a lack of preparation for an exam which is a real reason to be worried about test performance.

Errors in time management, poor study habits, failure to properly organize material and cramming the night before the exam are also likely to increase test anxiety.

If a test has been adequately prepared for, the precipitating anxiety may result from negative thinking and worries.

Focusing on past test performances, how friends and other classmates are doing, or the negative consequences of doing poorly are also major factors contributing to test anxiety.

Students who experience test anxiety tend to be the type of people who put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well. They often have unusually high expectations for themselves and, many times, have been very good students in the past.

When these students begin to experience low grades for the first time, usually in college, their image of themselves as a smart person begins to erode. They then put pressure on themselves to perform better, but often put off studying longer than they should. This initiates a cycle of self-doubt and irrational belief that can result in high anxiety levels during testing situations.

Help for Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can be a real problem, especially when the stresses reach a height where the nervousness takes over and the test taker cannot even focus on the test questions and do their best work. However, there are steps you can take to keep test anxiety at a manageable level and overcome nervousness .

Traditional strategies such as developing improved studying and test-taking skills can make a significant difference. For example, students can learn classroom note-taking and graphic-organization techniques to assist them in better preparing for tests, thus calming nerves.

Along with study skills, students can be taught effective study habits for tests, which can be a positive first step in overcoming test anxiety. Study habits have to do with planning (how, when, and where you study), time management, and organizational skills.

Everything takes time and practice, and learning how to overcome nervousness and anxiety is no different. Although it will not disappear overnight, facing and dealing with test anxiety will help you learn stress management and overcome nervousness, which can prove to be a valuable skill in many situations besides taking tests.

Of course, taking care of your health - such as getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food before a test - can help keep your mind working at its best. Students who get a full eight hours sleep the night before a test are more likely to figure out the problems than those who stay awake the entire night before studying.

The good news for students who experience test anxiety is that it may be easily conquered if they are willing to follow some guidelines and practice some well-established techniques. Research indicates that when students have tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits, overcoming test anxiety and its associated symptoms is attainable. As a result, they improve their ability to prepare for and perform on exams.

The most frequently mentioned strategies address the following areas:
  • Relaxation
  • Knowledge of testing conditions
  • Adequate preparation through improvement of test-taking and study skills
  • Effective health habits, exercise, and good nutrition
  • Monitoring of thinking patterns and positive self-talk
Tips for Controlling Test Anxiety
  • Tell yourself, "I can be anxious later, now is the time to take the exam."
  • Counter negative thoughts with other, more valid thoughts like, "I don’t have to be perfect."
  • Tense and relax the muscles throughout your body.
  • Take a couple of slow, deep breaths and try to maintain a positive attitude.
  • If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Ask the instructor a question (but don't ask for answers).
  • If allowed, eat something. A handful of nuts and raisins will give you an energy boost.
  • Do something different. Break your pencil lead, then sharpen it. This allows you to do something physical – and can distract your mind momentarily until you get back on track.
  • Know that there is no such thing as failure-- the only failure is not trying at all, so strive to do your personal best!
  • Come to the understanding that you will not know every question on the test, but feel confident and give yourself praise for trying, even if you don’t get the score you want.
  • Tense and relax the muscles in several parts of your body, then take several deep breaths with your eyes closed.
  • Try calming yourself by saying a couple of sentences like: "This test will not permanently affect my life. I'm going to feel calm and relaxed."

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