Getting nervous is a normal reaction many people have before taking a test. You may feel a few butterflies in your stomach as you walk into the exam or regret not studying as hard as you could have.
However, you should eventually be able to set those feelings aside, get through the test to the best of your ability, and learn to accept the outcome.
For some people, this can feel nearly impossible. Feeling stressed about a test to the point where it overwhelms you may mean you are experiencing a phenomenon known as test anxiety.
If this describes your typical reaction when it’s time to take an exam, you are not alone. Keep reading to find out where those feelings might be coming from and what test anxiety tips you can use to ease them so you can make it through your next exam.
What Is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is a term that describes having severe or excessive physical and emotional reactions to being in a testing environment. These reactions are often so strong that they interfere with your ability to do your best on the exam. In some cases, they may prevent you from taking the test altogether.
Research shows that those with learning disabilities are more likely to experience the debilitating symptoms of test anxiety than others.
Test Anxiety Symptoms
The emotional symptoms of test anxiety may include:
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Having feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem
- Experiencing a depressive episode
- Having racing thoughts or a feeling that your mind is “going blank”
- Ruminating on past failures or the consequences of failure
These emotional symptoms may escalate into physical or behavioral test anxiety symptoms, some of which can include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
- Nervous tics
- Inability to concentrate
For some students, these test anxiety symptoms can lead to physical illness, emotional breakdown, or outright avoidance of any testing situation.
What Are Some Causes of Test Anxiety Symptoms?
The causes of test anxiety symptoms are often deeply personal and rooted in a person’s past or present life experiences. It’s also important to note that some causes are easier to address than others. If you’re experiencing test anxiety, it may be due to one of the following root causes.
Fear of Failure
You may fear failing the test because of your perception of what a low test score means. If you connect your self-worth to your test score, you may feel that a low score means you lack inherent worth.
You may also be worried about others behaving harshly toward you if you perform poorly on an exam. If you feel this way, you are not alone, as 61% of teens cite “getting good grades” as a top stressor.
|Source of Stress||Percentage of Teens Reporting as Their Top Stressor|
|Getting Good Grades||61%|
|Fitting In Socially||28%|
|Getting Involved In Extracurricular Activities||21%|
|Being Good at Sports||21%|
Lack of Preparation
You might experience test anxiety symptoms because you did not (or were simply unable to) study for the test, and therefore, you feel grossly unprepared for what you are walking into. If this is a chronic problem, it’s important to look into why it’s happening and how you can find time and motivation to prepare well for your exams.
Lack of Past Success
You may have done poorly on previous tests and experienced a severe lack of confidence or worry about how you might perform on future tests. You may slip into a pattern of believing that one or two low test scores mean that you will never be able to meet your academic or personal standards.
How Can You Overcome Your Test Anxiety Symptoms?
Overcoming anxiety isn’t easy, but a few test anxiety tips and modifications may help lessen your symptoms and make it easier to handle.
If you find that you are continually underprepared for your exams, it can cause chronic stress and test anxiety symptoms. First, you need to figure out why you are having trouble preparing in advance. Your fix may be as simple as learning to manage your time better or modifying your lifestyle to prioritize studying.
Once you’ve got sufficient time for studying, consider employing the following test anxiety tips:
- Create your own study guide
- Teach the material to someone else
- Connect the material to personal experiences
- Use concept maps and diagrams
- Space out your study sessions over several weeks
Finding the right study technique can be key to helping you gain confidence that you’ve learned the material and are ready for the test.
Mitigating your test anxiety symptoms will likely involve finding ways to manage the stress you feel. Some suggestions include:
- Gathering materials before the exam
- Arriving at the exam earlier than the scheduled start time
- Engaging in positive self-talk before the exam
- Breathing deeply from your diaphragm
- Tightening and then relaxing muscles
- Closing your eyes and counting to ten
- Maintaining realistic expectations about outcomes
Be aware that managing your stress may also involve lifestyle modifications, such as getting enough sleep, exercising for 30 minutes daily, eating well, and finding time to relax or meditate.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
It’s important for those experiencing test anxiety symptoms to know you don’t have to deal with it alone. It can often help to talk with a trusted friend, family member, educator, or school counselor.
Seeking professional help through cognitive behavioral or exposure therapy help can also give you access to a plethora of additional resources to help you reduce your test anxiety to a manageable level.
While your test anxiety symptoms may not disappear entirely or be solved overnight, it is usually a treatable issue. By using proven test anxiety tips and techniques and taking advantage of available resources, you can get on the path to finding relief.