Test Anxiety

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is worry or fear caused by taking exams.

Signs include:

  • Mental distraction: inability to concentrate, easily distracted.
  • Physical symptoms: increased heart and breathing rates, sweaty palms, nausea, fidgeting or headache.
  • Mental blocks: ineffective thinking.

Who is affected?

All students are affected, but to varying degrees.

  • Slightly anxious students see exams as an opportunity to show what they know.
  • Anxious students who have failed tests before view them as a threat of another potential failure.
  • Highly anxious students perform poorly even when they know the material because they do not manage their anxiety.

What causes test anxiety?

  • Pressure from yourself and others
  • Poor past experiences
  • Fear of failure
  • Poor study skills

What can I do to stop test anxiety?

Learn effective study habits and basic self-discipline techniques:

  • Create a study atmosphere.
    • Study where you can concentrate without interruption from phone, TV or friends.
    • Sit at a well-lit desk or table.
    • Study when you feel alert and rested.
  • Make the most of your notes.
    • Take notes effectively.
    • Read your notes for a few minutes after class to fill in gaps.
    • Review your notes weekly.
  • Manage your time with a schedule.
    • Mark deadlines and exam dates on a calendar.
    • Schedule several short review sessions (40 to 50 minutes long) rather than a few long ones.
    • Be realistic about the amount of material you can cover in one session.
    • Schedule some free time as well.
  • Create learning aids:
    • Make flash cards for terms, foreign language vocabulary, etc.
    • Make timelines and charts.
    • Create an outline to break the information into smaller categories.
  • Prepare yourself:
    • Attend all classes.
    • Listen actively by asking questions and picking out key phrases and information.
    • Get help at the Study Skills Center, the Writing Center, or schedule peer tutoring.
  • Be kind to yourself.
    • Eat and sleep well before an exam.
    • Avoid cramming.
    • Avoid caffeine and other drugs.

Learn good test taking skills. Follow these tips:

  • For Short Answer Exams
    • Budget time.
    • Do the easiest questions first.
    • Answer each question, even when you don’t know the complete answer.
    • Use the full time allowed to review answers, make corrections and add information.
  • For Essay Exams
    • Read all the questions first.
    • Use short, simple sentences that are logical and clear.
    • Start with the easiest question first.
    • Answer more difficult questions last.
    • Budget time.
  • For Objective Exams
    • Solve in order given.
    • Circle and skip difficult questions and return if time permits.
    • Beware of qualifying words such as: most, all, sometimes or always.
    • To be sure you thoroughly understand each question, think as you read.
    • Finish the exam, then return to skipped questions. Use all allotted time.
  • For Standardized Exams
    • Get a study aid guide and work through it carefully and consistently.
    • Circle questions that you are unable to answer and return to them later if time allows.
    • Make an educated guess by eliminating choices you know are wrong, then look for clues in the remaining choices before selecting an answer.

How can I control my anxiety?

  • Don’t let emotions interfere with logic.
    • Think about why you become anxious and afraid.
    • Turn negative, self-defeating thoughts into positive, supportive thoughts.
  • Use your imagination positively.
    • Disastrous scenarios create anxiety.
    • Imagine yourself as calm and in control, as a winner not a loser.
  • Learn to relax
    • Learn relaxation techniques.
    • Learn how to unblock your mind during an exam.
      (Techniques taught at the Study Skills Center.)

How can I deal with pressure before it has a chance to build up?

  • Use the resources available to you, such as:
    • The counseling center
    • Peer advisors
    • The Study Skills Center
    • Instructors
    • Your parents, spouse or someone else that you trust

Take steps to beat test anxiety! You can succeed.

Adapted from:

Scriptographic Booklet: "About Test Anxiety," Channing l. Bate Co. Inc., South Deerfield, MA, 1989 Edition.


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