Test Anxiety

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Students often blame test anxiety for poor performance on exams. This poor performance is frequently a lack of preparedness for a test (which causes anxiety) rather than classic test anxiety. However, if several symptoms of test anxiety are present in your life, you may be experiencing the real thing. You may want to consider the following symptoms and keep track of how many apply to you.

Most symptoms of test anxiety are those that happen while taking the exam. The most common symptom is to experience a mental block or freeze up. A person with test anxiety may find the words meaningless while reading test questions. Or a less severe version of this symptom is needing to reread test questions several times in order to comprehend them.

One feeling that is a common symptom of test anxiety is panic. The feeling of panic may come for a person with test anxiety if he or she doesn't know the answer to just one question on an exam. It may also come as time runs out at the end of an exam period. Some other symptoms of test anxiety that happen during an exam: worry over your performance compared to other test takers, being easily distracted during the exam, and plotting ways to escape from a test (like sneaking out or faking an illness). Certain other symptoms of test anxiety may appear while you are studying for your exam, while waiting to go to the exam, or during the exam:

  • forgetting information that you previously learned
  • difficulty concentrating
  • physical discomfort (nausea, rapid pulse, excessive perspiration, muscle tension)

You might be worried about failing your exam. You might get so tired from worrying about the exam that you almost don't care any more about doing well by the time the test date arrives! If you are experiencing the kind of worry and anxiety described in the previous paragraphs, try some of the following techniques to help you cope:

Before the Test

  • Discuss test content with instructor and classmates.
  • Develop effective study and test preparation skills.
  • Spread review over several days rather than cramming.
  • Intensive review should be done a few days before test.
  • Review text, notes, and homework problems.
  • Use 3x5 cards for learning specific concepts or formulas.
  • Take a practice test under exam-like conditions.
  • Continue regular exercise program.
  • Get sufficient rest the night prior to the test.
  • Develop a positive attitude about the test situation.
  • Don't study immediately prior to test. Relax or do something unrelated to the test.
  • Get to class about 5 minutes early and get relaxed before the test is given out; but TOO early may cause anxiety.

During the Test

  • Do something different. For example: get a drink, sharpen a pencil, eat a snack, ask a question.
  • Tense and relax muscles in several parts of your body, then take several deep breaths with your eyes closed.
  • Practice 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."
  • Practice visualizing a calm, soothing scene (such as a beach or mountains) and use this when you feel anxious.

Anxiety is created by expectations or thoughts about what is likely to happen. If you say negative things to yourself about your abilities, it produces a corresponding negative emotional reaction, anxiety.

Your beliefs about something create expectations about how a situation will play out. For example, if you believe you are not smart, don't know the information well enough, or aren't capable of performing well on exams, then your expectations will be for failure. Negative expectations then create anxiety and the anxiety will disable you from actually doing well.

Therefore, if you believe in yourself and your abilities, and thus have positive expectations for how you will perform on the exam, you may negate most of the anxiety. A small amount of anxiety is helpful for performing well!

If you need more in depth assistance with this topic, please set up an appointment at CDSW and one of our counselors will gladly work with you.