Test Anxiety

Anxiety is common amongst students. It is important to recognize anxiety and to learn how to effectively manage it. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that is part of life, and it can serve as a motivator. Experiencing some anxiety can help you be more alert and ready for action. For example, when faced with a looming deadline for a class project, or an important event, anxiety might motivate you to complete that assignment on time and be better prepared for that important event. However, excessive anxiety can result in stress and hinder performance. Too much anxiety before an exam can interfere with your concentration and performance during the exam.

It may be helpful to differentiate between anxieties in general versus Test Anxiety.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety

  • Tense muscles
  • Restlessness
  • Churning stomach and/or nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches and/or dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Backaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness or "pins and needles" in arms, hands or legs
  • Sweating/flushing

The above generalized anxiety symptoms may not be specific to testing or exam situations, but may be experienced in a variety of situations. On the other hand, below are some symptoms specific to test anxiety.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

  • Fear of failing the exam before arriving to take it.
  • Feeling tension as exam is being passed out. (Experiencing physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, perspiring, etc.)
  • Negative thinking such as: "I am going to fail", "I am dumb", "I shouldn't even bother taking the exam".
  • "Blanking out" on information that you studied. Upon leaving the class room or a short period later, you are able to remember the info that you couldn't recall during the exam.
  • Frustrated with your grade on the exam because you know you were well prepared.

If you experience anxiety symptoms in a variety of situations and not just specific to exams, it is best to seek help from a professional mental health practitioner at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). All anxiety symptoms are very treatable, given your commitment to make some changes. If you experience anxiety specific to exams, here are some tips.

Tips for Reducing Test Anxiety

  • Prepare for the exam ahead of time. "Cramming" is a big contributor of test anxiety.
  • Avoid last minute studying; remind yourself that you have studied the best that you could.
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep the night before the exam.
  • Make sure to eat the day of the exam, preferably something nutritious.
  • Avoid arriving too early or too late to the exam. Arriving too early can increase your anxiety if you start to hear others talk about their own preparation or worries.
  • Avoid listening to others or discussing the exam with others while you are waiting for the exam. The anxiety of others can increase your own doubt.
  • Don't forget to breathe! Take deep, slow breaths, and release these breaths slowly to help you relax. While you are taking deep breaths, replace any negative thoughts with positive thoughts. For example, you may find it useful to repeat positive statements to yourself such as the following: "I am relaxed", "I am prepared", "I am a good student". Make up your own!
  • Don't get bogged down and worry about questions you don't know. Move on to the next question. Later, the answer may come to you or you may get clues from other exam questions.
  • Reward yourself when you are finished with the exam.

Come to CAPS in the Student Wellness Center, Room 300B, to learn more about test anxiety, study tips, and relaxation methods. We also offer a variety of workshops that may help you be more prepared, and in turn this may decrease your test anxiety. In addition, our educational counselors are available to help you with your educational performance, time management skills, etc. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling.  Please call 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.