The Beck Anxiety Inventory & How It Works

Updated December 7, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The Beck Anxiety Inventory is a widely self-reported anxiety scale used to determine anxiety severity in adults and adolescent outpatients. This anxiety sensitivity scale is useful for anyone interested in measuring clinical anxiety symptoms in themselves or psychiatric outpatients. It consists of 21 questions that gauge how severe anxiety symptoms are. You need to know everything about the Beck Anxiety Inventory, including its history, how it works, and research showing its effectiveness.

beck anxiety inventory

Did You Take The Beck Anxiety Inventory?

History Of The BAI Scale

The Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) was developed in San Antonio in 1988 by Dr. Aaron Beck and some of his colleagues and published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Beck was a respected psychiatrist and researcher of abnormal psychology and common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. He created the BAI and other inventories so anxious outpatients could better understand their symptoms and conditions.

The Beck Anxiety Inventory was developed to evaluate anxiety without overlapping symptoms of depression or other affective disorders. Before this scale, anxiety scales (such as the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) frequently included symptoms that could also be caused by depression, which made them somewhat unreliable. The Beck scale does not include symptoms typical of depression, so if a patient scores high on the BAI, they likely have a specific problem with anxiety.

Evidence Of Effectiveness Of The BAI Scale

Over the years, several studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of the Beck Anxiety Inventory, with many completed in the years after the anxiety scale was published. These studies evaluated the scale's accuracy when used by patients who had already been diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

One such study compared the BAI to the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which was used frequently at the time. The study, done in 1991, showed that high scores on the Beck Anxiety Inventory correlated directly to raw scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, and it was, in fact, effective in assessing symptoms of anxiety. The study found that higher scores were more common in patients diagnosed with panic disorder rather than a generalized anxiety disorder.

Another study in 1993 determined the Beck Anxiety Inventory was a very effective tool for psychiatric outpatients in gauging their anxiety without confusing it with symptoms of other psychiatric disorders.

Despite these promising results, the Beck Anxiety Inventory has some limitations. For example, a confirmatory factor analysis published in the International Journal of Mental Health found that the assessment's original factor structure was inadequate for determining anxiety in Spanish-speaking Latinx primary care patients. These results indicated that an adjusted factor structure is likely necessary for any primary care population that speaks non-English languages or comes from other countries (i.e., non-American/non-Western cultures).

Furthermore, although the goal of BAI was to measure the severity of anxiety symptoms without measuring depression, some studies suggest that this assessment does inadvertently measure depression as well, which could muddle results.

Uses For Beck Anxiety Inventory

There are several uses for the Beck Anxiety Inventory in treating outpatient psychiatric patients. Practitioners can use the BAI with all outpatient psychiatric patients, as many mental health disorders can produce anxiety as a symptom. However, it is most effective with patients diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorders.

Treatment Planning For The Beck Anxiety Test

beck anxiety inventory

Treatment planning is an integral part of outpatient psychiatric therapy. The Beck Anxiety inventory allows clinicians to see what anxiety symptoms are present and to what extent. Armed with this knowledge, they can develop a treatment plan for remedying the patient's anxiety. This can be helpful for all psychiatric patients, not just those seeking treatment for anxiety disorders.

Treatment Monitoring

Once a treatment plan is developed, treatment monitoring ensures that problems are addressed so that symptoms improve. Using the Beck Anxiety Inventory at each appointment will allow the clinician to see if symptoms are improving or worsening. If symptoms are not improving, the treatment plan can be adjusted, and try new methods.

Treatment Outcomes Assessment

The Beck Anxiety Inventory can also determine the success of outpatient therapy when therapy is ending. The BAI answered by the patient at the end of treatment can be compared with their BAI scores during the treatment planning and monitoring phases. If the end treatment BAI shows no progress in resolving symptoms or worsening symptoms, this could indicate that further treatment is needed. Alternatively, it can provide evidence that the patient's symptoms have resolved successfully.


Unfortunately, the Beck Anxiety Inventory is ineffective for diagnosing anxiety and panic disorders. Many other problems, both medical and psychological, can cause the physical symptoms of anxiety. Clinicians do not use the BAI as a diagnostic tool, only as an assessment tool after diagnosis or during treatment.

Scoring Of Beck Anxiety Inventory

The scoring of the Beck Anxiety Inventory is pretty simple. The patient chooses how frequently they have experienced each item on the list in the previous week. The four responses they can choose from are:

  • 0 - Not at all

  • 1 - Mildly, but didn't bother me much

  • 2 - Moderately, it wasn't pleasant at times

  • 3 - Severely, it bothered me a lot

Once the patient answers all of the items on the inventory, the clinician can add up the patient's score. A score of 0 to 7 is minimal anxiety; 8 to 15 is mild anxiety; 16 to 25 is moderate anxiety; and 30 to 63 is severe anxiety. Again, this is simply an indication of how severe anxiety symptoms are for that week, not a diagnostic tool.

21 Points Of Beck Anxiety Inventory

There are twenty-one items on the Beck Anxiety Inventory. They represent the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Many items on the list focus on physiological or psychosomatic symptoms rather than cognitive symptoms. As such, clinicians often pair the BAI with the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, a more accurate representation of cognitive symptoms such as catastrophizing.

Did You Take The Beck Anxiety Inventory?

The 21 points on the BAI are as follows:

  1. Numbness Or Tingling

  2. Feeling Hot

  3. Wobbliness In Legs

  4. Unable To Relax

  5. Fear Of Worst Happening

  6. Dizzy Or Lightheaded

  7. Heart Pounding/Racing

  8. Unsteady

  9. Terrified Or Afraid

  10. Nervous

  11. Feeling Of Choking

  12. Hands Trembling

  13. Shaky/Unsteady

  14. Fear Of Losing Control

  15. Difficulty Breathing

  16. Fear Of Dying

  17. Scared

  18. Indigestion

  19. Faint/Lightheaded

  20. Face Flushed

  21. Hot/Cold Sweats

Getting Help

If you take the Beck Anxiety Inventory and discover that you have moderate to severe anxiety symptoms, you should seek help right away. Even if some items listed on the inventory resonate with you, you should contact a therapist who can administer the BAI and other assessments to determine if you have an anxiety disorder or if your anxiety is a symptom of something else.

There are many benefits to online therapy for people with anxiety. Being able to connect with a therapist from the comfort of home eliminates some of the pressure that comes from meeting with a stranger face-to-face. Plus, you can reach out to your therapist through email or a safe messaging system at any time, which may be helpful when your anxiety spikes.

Online therapy is also convenient, cost-effective, and extremely effective. Research shows that those participating in online therapy for depression and anxiety had “significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores” at 12 weeks post-intervention and that these results were sustained for six months. If you have anxiety, online therapy might be the right choice for you. Connect with a qualified mental health professional to get started.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started