What is Test Anxiety?
Being tested is a part of life in one way or another for everyone. The most common correlation of test-taking is in relation to a student taking exams in school; however, there are other forms of test-taking across the board, whether it be in the workplace, in sports, or any situation in which your performance or understanding of something is being assessed. Along with being tested, there often comes a level of anxiety; while this is normal, for some people the anxiety of even just the idea of taking tests becomes so debilitating that it prevents them from being able to actually perform accurately. Luckily, there are ways to manage test anxiety in order to be able to truly do your best.
Test anxiety is an actual psychological condition in which people experience such extreme levels of stress and anxiety that it impairs or interferes with their ability to do well on tests. This anxiety often leads to self-doubt, which can make you question your own true ability and have several types of effects and/or symptoms.
Do I Have Test Anxiety?
Deciphering between a “normal” level of anxiousness and having actual test anxiety can be confusing. A little bit of nervousness can actually be helpful, making you feel mentally alert and ready to tackle the challenges presented in a test, but if your anxiety is debilitating and preventing you from doing your best, there may be something more going on. While only a medical or mental health professional can actually diagnose test anxiety, you can self-assess your symptoms to decide if you should seek further guidance.
Symptoms of Test Anxiety
If taking tests causes beyond a manageable level of anxiety, you might experience:
- Cognitive Symptoms – racing thoughts, self-comparison to others, difficulty concentrating, “blanking out,” negative thoughts of past performances
- Emotional Symptoms – fear, anger, feeling helpless, guilt, shame, disappointment
- Physical Symptoms – nausea, racing heart, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, dry mouth, tense muscles
Sometimes even just the idea of testing or knowing that a test is coming up creates an uncomfortable level of anticipation anxiety.
Causes of Test Anxiety
You likely wonder why it seems that others can just easily concentrate on tests and you experience an abundance of anxiety. There could be several reasons for this, such as:
- Fear of failure: If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.
- Poor testing history: If you have done poorly on tests before, either because you didn't study well enough or because you were so anxious, you couldn't remember the answers, this can cause even more anxiety and a negative attitude every time you have to take another test.
- Unpreparedness: If you didn't study or didn't study well enough, this can add to your feeling of anxiety.
Just like other types of anxiety, test anxiety can create a bad cycle: The more you focus on the negative things that could happen, the stronger the feeling of anxiety becomes. This makes you feel worse and, with a head is full of distracting thoughts and fears, can increase the chances that you could do poorly on the test.
Managing Test Anxiety
What exactly can you do to prevent or minimize test anxiety? Here are some strategies to help:
- Avoid perfectionism. Don't expect or try to be perfect. We all make mistakes, and that's okay. Knowing you've done your best and worked hard is really all that matters, not perfection.
- Stop negative thoughts. If you start to have anxious or defeated thoughts, such as "I'm not good enough," "I didn't study hard enough," or "I can't do this," push those thoughts away and replace them with positive thoughts. "I can do this," "I know the material," and "I studied hard," can go far in helping to manage your stress level when taking a test.
- Learn how to study efficiently. Your school (workplace, etc.) may offer study-skills classes or other resources that can help you learn study techniques and test-taking strategies. You'll feel more relaxed if you systematically study and practice the material that will be on a test.
- Establish a consistent pre-test routine. Learn what works for you, and follow the same steps each time you get ready to take a test. This will ease your stress level and help ensure that you're well-prepared.
- Don't forget to eat and drink. Your brain needs fuel in order to properly function. Be sure to eat the day of the test and drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda pop, which can cause your blood sugar to peak and then drop, or caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks or coffee, which can increase anxiety.
- Get some exercise. Exercising the day on or shortly before a test can help release tension.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is directly related to test performance. Preteens and teenagers especially need to get regular, solid sleep, but adults also need a good night's sleep, for optimal work performance.
- Make sure you're well prepared. That means studying for the test early until you feel comfortable with the material, not trying to “cram” by waiting until the night before. Being prepared will boost your confidence, which will lessen your test anxiety.9
- Take deep breaths. If you start to feel anxious while you're taking your test, deep breathing may be useful for reducing anxiety. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Work through each question or problem one at a time, taking a deep breath in between each one as needed. Making sure you are giving your lungs plenty of oxygen can help your focus and sense of calm.
- Don't ignore the possibility of a learning disability. Test anxiety may improve by addressing an underlying condition that interferes with the ability to learn, focus or concentrate— for example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. In many cases, a student diagnosed with a learning disability is entitled to assistance with test taking, such as extra time to complete a test, testing in a less distracting room or having questions read out loud.
Managing test anxiety starts one day at a time. If you’re taking care of yourself, thinking positively, and allowing yourself to make mistakes along the way, then you are likely to feel more in control when you show up to take a test. Everything takes time and practice, and learning to beat test anxiety is no different. Although it won't go away overnight, facing and dealing with test anxiety will help you learn stress management, which can prove to be a valuable skill in many situations besides taking tests.
While test anxiety can make you feel overwhelmed and even hopeless in the moment, it can be treated. Seeing a licensed therapist to learn ways to manage or overcome causes/symptoms can help you prepare and perform well. At Lansing Counseling, we can work with you to find the best ways that are individual to you in order to overcome your test anxiety and create confidence. Feel free to make an appointment with us by phone: (517) 333-1499 email: [email protected], or complete the contact form by clicking here.
5030 Northwind Dr Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823