Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Doing well on tests can serve you well in life. It can help you pass classes, get a degree, or advance your career. Yet, for those with test anxiety, taking a test can feel like torture. These feelings are distressing, and they can affect your performance. Understanding and dealing with this problem can have many benefits. Here’s what you should know if you think you might have test anxiety.
Test Anxiety Statistics
Test anxiety is a significant problem for many students of all ages. Here are a few statistics on test anxiety to give you an idea of its prevalence and effects.
- Between 10 and 40 percent of students experience test anxiety.
- Anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of adults, but only one-third of them seek treatment.
- Increased standardized testing increases test anxiety.
- Among students with test anxiety, those with poor working memory had worse test results than those with good working memory.
Test Anxiety Definition
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that only happens before and during an exam. When you have test anxiety, you feel tense and apprehensive before or during a test. This anxiety can lead to poor test performance.
Test Anxiety Symptoms
If you have test anxiety, you know exactly what the experience is like. The most obvious symptoms may be the feelings that go with it. There are also some symptoms that affect your thinking and your body.
You may feel stressed, helpless, disappointed, fearful, or inadequate. Your thoughts may circle round and round as you dwell on failures from the past. Your mind may go blank or random thoughts may race through your mind.
People with test anxiety usually have trouble concentrating and may procrastinate in preparing for a test. Negative thoughts fill your mind, including thoughts that others may do better than you will.
You may feel physical symptoms too, like headache, increased sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and a feeling of faintness.
Why Does Test Anxiety Happen?
Everyone is different, but there are some common reasons why test anxiety happens. First, you may be intensely afraid of failure, especially if the test is critical to your success.
Some people have test anxiety because they don’t prepare well enough. A circular pattern can develop, where putting off studying leads to test anxiety, leading to more lack of preparation.
If you have had bad experiences or low test results in the past, those memories may bring on negative thoughts and feelings when you take tests later.
If you’re a perfectionist, doing poorly on an exam is even more upsetting to you than those who aren’t. Your self-criticism can cause you to do even worse on tests than you would otherwise.
How To Overcome Test Anxiety
Any kind of anxiety can be distressing. The first thing you may want to do is find out how much your anxiety is affecting you. You can take a quick anxiety test online to discover the severity of your symptoms. The next step is to learn how to get rid of test anxiety.
How To Deal With Test Anxiety On Your Own
You can do several things to help yourself with test anxiety. First try out the following tips. Then you can then develop strategies to use when you need to take a test later in life.
Test Anxiety Tips
Use these tips on the day of your exam to stay calm and increase your performance.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam.
- As you prepare yourself for the day’s exam, turn on some music that makes you feel calm and relaxed.
- Eat a healthy meal or snack before you go.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day of the test. Bring a bottle of water with you to drink right before the exam.
- Limit how much caffeine you drink before the exam to avoid the increased anxiety it can bring.
- Take some time to gather everything you will need during the test. Set them out early rather than trying to remember and grab your pencils, calculator, and any other important items on the way out the door.
- Bring earplugs and use them if noises in the room distract you.
- Get to the exam room early to avoid the tense feeling that comes with rushing to make it in time.
- Choose a seat where you feel most comfortable and can clearly see anything necessary to take the exam, such as questions or math problems on a whiteboard.
- Practice deep breathing whenever you feel tense or anxious during the test.
- Don’t rush to answer. Instead, read the test instructions and each question slowly until you understand them.
- Focus on one question at a time.
- Use systematic muscle relaxation to ease tension in your body.
- Stay mindful of the present moment; avoid getting lost in thoughts of the past or future.
Test Anxiety Strategies
The idea of strategies usually involves planning. Consider what you can do as a part of an overall plan to eliminate test anxiety. Exam anxiety doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your highest goals if you develop an approach that you can use repeatedly.
One strategy is to start studying early. Having test anxiety can make preparation seem like a scary reminder of the test to come. However, when you push past that feeling and study anyway, you can reduce your anxiety before and during the test.
Study in a place that’s similar to the place where you will take the test. Try to find a space set up similarly in an environment with the same types of noises and distractions.
Another strategy is to take some time to develop better studying and test-taking skills. Your school may offer classes or workshops to teach you how to improve your academic abilities. As you become more proficient at studying, your feelings of inadequacy will likely decrease.
Develop self-care habits that help you during classes, self-study, and exams. Make a habit of eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and doing things you enjoy.
One of the best strategies for feeling more confident about taking tests is to get in the habit of talking to your teacher or professor about tests as soon as you know they’re coming up. If you can, find out what subjects will be covered, and what level of performance they will require. Uncertainty can increase your anxiety. If you have any questions about the material or the exam, don’t hesitate to ask your teacher.
Can A Therapist Help With Test Anxiety?
Knowing how to overcome test anxiety isn’t always easy. That’s why many people still need help, even after trying the tips and strategies that experts recommend. A counselor can help you develop new thought patterns and beliefs that will help reduce your anxiety.
TIPS TO CONQUER TEST ANXIETY
Improve Your Self-Esteem
People with low self-esteem are more likely to suffer from test anxiety. So, improving your sense of self-worth and acceptance can be extremely beneficial. A part of this process is examining the negative thoughts behind your test anxiety. Then you can replace those unhelpful beliefs with positive thoughts about yourself.
Deal With The Past
A counselor can allow you to express your thoughts and feelings about distressing past events. Whether those events are directly related to test-taking or not, dealing with the past can help you in many ways. It can help you feel calmer, more in control, and more self-confident when you resolve issues that negatively impact you.
Many people with test anxiety have panic attacks or intense fears related to test-taking. Overcoming those fears, of course, helps you feel more relaxed during the test. Exposure therapy may be beneficial if you fear being in an exam room.
Here’s an example of how it might work: Your counselor shows you images of rooms where tests are taking place. Next, you sit in a similar space. After that, they may arrange for you to sit quietly in the actual exam room where you will take a test. They are with you all along the way, encouraging you and offering you suggestions for reducing your anxiety. Finally, you go and take a test on your own, and afterward, you discuss it with your counselor to gain even more insights. Sometimes, counselors can use virtual reality programs to start this process.
Set Realistic Expectations
Perfectionism may be the root of your test anxiety. If you expect yourself to ace every test, you are naturally going to worry that there might be some questions you can’t answer or that you’ll make a mistake and blow your perfect record.
However, through counseling, you can explore your expectations and consider whether they are realistic or not. You can learn to accept the idea that expecting perfection is usually unrealistic and doing well is good enough.
Learn Coping Skills And Stress Reduction Techniques
The tips above mentioned some of the coping skills you might learn from a counselor. But during therapy, your counselor can guide you as you practice relaxation techniques. They can help you learn the coping skills that work best for you. They can point you to more specific information and tools to help you manage your stress and anxiety. They can give you worksheets that help put your new knowledge into practice.
What Happens When You Overcome Test Anxiety
Test anxiety can make you miserable. At the same time, it can interfere with your test performance. But once you take the right steps to overcome it, your world may go through a dramatic transformation. You’ll feel more comfortable going into an exam. You’ll probably get higher scores and a higher grade point average. You may even start looking forward to the excitement of taking a test and showing what you know. If you struggle with test anxiety, learning to deal with it may be the first step to greater success and happiness.
DO YOU HAVE ANXIETY?
Everyone has concerns now and then. It’s natural to be a little nervous in situations that involve risk. However, having an anxiety disorder is different. It can seriously affect your daily life and your ability to reach your long-term goals. One way to get an idea of whether you have an anxiety disorder is to take an anxiety test online. Once you know whether you have a significant problem, you can focus on finding out your unique answer to “What is good for anxiety?”