By Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC  |  05/16/2023

test anxiety

Experiencing test anxiety is a common challenge faced by students across various academic levels. It can manifest in physical symptoms, performance anxiety, severe test anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and self-doubt. By understanding the prevalence of this issue and implementing a range of study strategies, you may better manage your test anxiety and improve your academic performance.

Test anxiety was a definite problem for me back when I was a student. If there was one thing that I dreaded more than anything else about school, it was test taking.

There is nothing more likely to cause a rapid heartbeat than that one exam which incorporates a high percentage of your final grade.

When preparing for my next exam, I would develop racing thoughts, and I'd often worry about it for weeks. My fear of failure was often more than just a little nervousness, and for other students test anxiety even has biological causes and emotional symptoms.


Panic Attacks and Other Responses To Taking a Test

For some people, the high pressure of test anxiety can result in frightening experiences commonly referred to as panic attacks. During this response, the body releases that dreaded hormone called adrenaline - bringing with it rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, intense fear, and excessive sweating.

Some people's stress level also results in them not getting enough sleep - which produces more anxiety - especially when feeling exhausted, and experiencing other cognitive symptoms, makes the student perform poorly on test day. It's easy to see how a "vicious cycle" develops during these stressful situations.

Once, I got so wrapped up in test anxiety that I showed up late for one of my final exams in one of my undergraduate courses. I walked into the classroom, and no one looked familiar.

That particular test day was pretty much the worst case of testing situations and my anxiety pretty much hit the roof, and I panicked. I went to the instructor's office and found him there.

I explained my mistake, and he said I could retake the exam, to my relief.

I retook the test and ended up with a good grade. I learned from that experience that the world did not end if I messed up on a test and it helped me with my next test.


What are the causes of test anxiety?

That test-day experience - and experiencing the symptoms of test anxiety - made me dig deeper to understand what causes it. After that mistake on my final exam, I wanted to improve at taking exams and showing up at the right time. I wanted to learn what I could do to reduce test anxiety to improve my academic performance. I also learned that stress management is important to be successful in school.

Test anxiety is a common problem for many students. This problem creates poor performance for many students and school children; some will experience brief test anxiety, while others may suffer from severe anxiety throughout their academic careers.

It's important to practice different test anxiety tips to help become more successful with your test performance.

The experience of test anxiety, particularly when it includes physical symptoms and emotional symptoms (like panic attacks), can be daunting. Some people develop low self worth and low self esteem, i.e., when a student believes the notion that they're destined to fail. Yet, understanding the causes of test anxiety can offer some solace to students. There are several tips that may help overcome physical and cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.

In order to help mitigate the effects of performance anxiety, consider adopting the strategies below. By incorporating these techniques into your routine, you'll be better prepared to tackle the challenges that come with test day and reduce the impact of test anxiety on your life.

Stay focused and remember that overcoming test anxiety is possible with persistence, practice, and support.


Strategy #1: Prepare and Practice for the Test

The first strategy for taking a test is to prepare by taking practice tests. When you feel confident and ready for the test, and know the test format, you'll go in to take it with confidence. Being prepared for the test - and acknowledging one's true abilities - are important test taking strategies.

Studying the class material, practicing with sample questions, and reviewing your notes are required as you prepare for your test. Read carefully; don't rush through instructions or other resources.

Subsequently, you can identify areas that require improvement and adjust your study routine accordingly. Regular exposure to practice tests will make test day feel more manageable, helping to reduce your performance anxiety and improve your self-worth.


Strategy #2: Always attend the review session

It's important to attend the review session for all tests. If there is a review session, go to it. Neglecting to participate in a review session is another common mistake because a review session covers the test material.

By not attending the session you will likely have lower test scores than the people that attended.

The review session will offer focused core ideas of the class that help make it easier for you. The review session will review the topics that will be on the test.

I have been to many review sessions through the years, and they always give you a good idea of what to expect on the test. Knowing what to study is always going to boost your test scores.


Strategy #3: Use Relaxation Techniques to Lessen Your Test Anxiety

You should employ some relaxation techniques. Many people find that a few deep breaths, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization exercises can help reduce emotional and physical symptoms of stress. These techniques can help you calm down and feel more focused.

Experiencing poor test history, test anxiety and depression association with poor test performance will make anyone's stress level rise.


Strategy #4: Don't Get Stuck on Difficult Test Questions

Overcome test anxiety by not getting stuck on difficult test questions. If you come across a difficult question on your test, don't waste time brooding over it.

A lot of people don't understand - or feel that they cannot answer - the first question. So, they panic and freeze. A novel approach is to immediately look at last question on the test instead - which is often the most difficult. Answering a tough question often boosts confidence - making the other questions a little easier to handle.


Strategy #5: Use Positive Self-Talk to Reinforce Your Confidence

Use positive self-talk to keep your spirits up and remain confident as you're taking the test.

Tell yourself that you are ready for the test and you will do great. No one has ever done great on a test by telling themselves they don't know the material and will fail. Only thinking about failure leads to failure; focusing on success will lead to success.

Focus on positive thoughts and do your best to eliminate negative thoughts. More test anxiety comes from making yourself believe those negative thoughts.

High test anxiety will come when people feel anxious right before the test. Keep in mind that all this test anxiety will disappear once you start the test.


Strategy #6: A Good Night's Sleep and Other Healthy Habits

Go into your test well hydrated, focused and energized, rather than sleepless and caffeinated. Being sleepy, hungry, overly caffeinated, or dehydrated can cause fatigue and mental fog, exacerbating your test anxiety.

As a student, I used to stay up late and drink more coffee than I ever should, thinking that was the key to success on a test. After all, cramming is the undergraduate sport of choice.

That fear of failure never worked for me, so I do not believe that it will work for anyone else.

It is better to study hard, get a good night's sleep, eat a good meal, and drink water and only a little coffee (if you like) before going in for the test. A night of good sleep and a balanced meal with water will help settle you.


Strategy #7: Create a Testing Ritual

Developing a personalized testing ritual is an effective way to establish a sense of calm and control before and during exams. This ritual can help counteract the anxiety and stress associated with test-taking, enabling you to approach the test with a more positive and focused mindset. By consistently following a familiar routine, you create a mental and emotional anchor that helps you feel grounded in the face of test anxiety.

To create a testing ritual, consider incorporating the following steps:

  •  Establish a pre-test routine to follow each time you have an exam.
  •  Develop a test day routine that includes actions such as arriving early to the testing location, choosing a preferred seat, setting up your materials, and taking a few deep breaths.
  •  Integrate mental anchoring techniques into your testing ritual, such as visualization exercises, positive affirmations, or short meditations.

By carefully crafting a testing ritual that works for you, you can mitigate the effects of test anxiety and create a sense of predictability and control during exams.

This ritual serves as a personalized tool for grounding yourself and fostering the mental resilience necessary to navigate test anxiety with confidence.

Remember, consistency is key – the more you practice your ritual, the more effective it can become in helping you manage anxiety and perform at your best during tests


Strategy #8: Improve Concentration Skills

Difficulty concentrating can be a direct result of test anxiety. Enhancing your focus and concentration skills will make it easier to manage anxiety and perform better during tests.

Breathe deeply and engage in activities that strengthen your focus, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, or cognitive games. By cultivating better concentration skills, you will be better equipped to overcome test anxiety and remain calm during the examination.


Strategy #9: Understand Your Test Anxiety Triggers

Recognizing the specific triggers that cause your test anxiety can help you create personalized strategies to address them. For instance, if self-doubt tends to fuel your anxiety, focus on reinforcing positive self-talk and self-confidence. By understanding your triggers, you can take a proactive approach to managing your test anxiety, leading to a more successful performance on test day.


Strategy #10: Seek Professional Help for Severe Test Anxiety

In cases where test anxiety becomes severe and significantly impacts performance, seeking professional help can be a valuable option.

A trained therapist or counselor can provide guidance on stress management techniques, address any underlying issues contributing to anxiety, and assist in developing personalized strategies to cope with test anxiety.


Strategy #11: Develop a Support Network

Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, and mentors can help reduce test anxiety. These individuals can offer encouragement, advice, and assistance when needed.

Sharing your experiences with others who also struggle with test anxiety can create a sense of camaraderie and builds mutual support, making it easier to manage anxiety-related challenges.

Remember that to experience test anxiety is a common problem, and feeling nervous is okay. Students are going to occasionally experience anxiety reactions coming from academic stress.

Many people have severe anxiety and will experience it at one point, if not regularly. However, with practice and preparation, you can overcome your anxiety and perform well on any test.

Developing a range of strategies to cope with test anxiety can significantly improve your academic performance and overall well-being.

It is important to remember that overcoming test anxiety is a gradual process, requiring consistent effort and self-compassion. As you continue to practice and refine these techniques, you'll develop greater resilience in handling anxiety-inducing situations.

The other factor to consider is patience. Be patient with yourself and stay committed to the process, recognizing that setbacks are a normal part of growth.

Ultimately, by addressing test anxiety head-on and developing personalized coping strategies, you may achieve academic success and foster a healthier relationship with testing and learning. Hopefully, the causes of test anxiety and the symptoms of test anxiety will become a distant memory.

About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security and logistics management from American Public University.

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