While a little nervousness about a test can be normal, excessive stress, agitation, and stress before an exam may indicate a mental health concern. If intense fear or anxiety interferes with your ability to take an exam, you may be experiencing test anxiety.
Testing anxiety is a type of performance-related nervousness and fear that affects individuals regarding assessment experiences. The anxiety may become extreme, causing emotional and physical symptoms affecting an individual's concentration ability. Due to these symptoms, those affected may struggle to complete a test or focus during an exam. However, there are strategies that may help you overcome test anxiety.
Symptoms Of Test Anxiety
An individual experiencing test anxiety may have physical and emotional symptoms.
- A rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- The feeling of "butterflies" in your stomach
- Difficulty breathing
Emotional symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Immense fear
- Increased irritability or anger
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Urges to run away from or avoid a situation, person, or thing
- Compulsive urges
- Distressing, repetitive worrying thoughts
- Shame or embarrassment
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. However, anxiety symptoms may significantly impact an individual's ability to focus on a test.
What Causes Testing Anxiety?
Research shows that hormones called adrenaline and cortisol are released into your body upon triggers of stress or anxiety, often causing a "fight or flight" response. If testing triggers your stress or fear, you may experience the physical and emotional symptoms of these chemical processes when you think about taking a test.
The cause of test anxiety can vary. Some individuals have high expectations for themselves or worry about perfectionism. They may have a history of performing poorly on tests or have experienced pressure from peers or family to perform well academically. They may fear making errors or not performing up to others' or their own standards.
Additionally, some students may experience anxiety from feeling unprepared or struggling with a learning disability or mental health condition that impacts their testing process. For example, someone experiencing ADHD may struggle to focus during long tests and could experience test anxiety due to this. There may also be an anxiety and depression association.
Managing Test Anxiety
Test anxiety can vary from person to person. However, it often makes it difficult to focus and perform well on a test. Distress from the effects of anxiety may worsen testing fears. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your test anxiety and increase the chances of a positive testing experience.
1. Be Prepared
Before the test, properly prepare yourself for the material. Try not to procrastinate studying until the night before, as this may increase your test-taking anxiety. Begin studying weeks before the test to ensure you have enough time to review the material several times.
2. Find An Effective Study Strategy
Everyone may learn and study differently. Try to find an effective study strategy that works for you to retain information effectively. For example, you may start studying earlier in the day if you're a morning person. Additionally, you can read through study tips and find methods that work best for you.
Gain Professional Support For Test Anxiety
3. Talk To Your Professor
Speak to your professor before your exam. You may be able to ask questions about what to expect on the test or clarify any fears you have. If your teacher knows feel anxious, they may be able to offer tips and tricks for testing in their class.
4. Seek Support
You may require extra help to deal with symptoms of test anxiety. If you have overwhelming stress about test-taking, it may be beneficial to seek help from a therapist, especially if there is an anxiety or depression association. In some cases you may be able to text anxiety questions or challenges when they come up, and have your therapist reach out within a day or two. Additionally, you may reach out to a tutor if you are struggling academically.
Scheduling an appointment with a traditional counselor can take time. You may have to factor in commute time, work, and school schedules. Online therapy may be valuable if you're looking for a flexible option. You can sign up for online counseling in a few minutes and start therapy as soon as 24 to 48 hours after signing up. Additionally, studies indicate that online counseling is effective in treating anxiety symptoms.
Online platforms such as BetterHelp for adults or TeenCounseling for teens may be helpful. They can provide strategies and guidance for overcoming your test anxiety, so that you can feel confident and stay focused when test day rolls around.
5. Sign Up For Testing Accommodations
If you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you are considered to have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Schools are required to offer reasonable accommodations to those who request them.
Your school may have a disability center to reach out to. After providing your mental health or physical health diagnosis through a doctor's note, your disability coordinator may speak with you to come up with testing accommodations unique to your needs. For example, you might receive extra time on tests, a separate testing location, or assistive technology during the test.
Accommodations can relieve test anxiety in those fearful due to symptoms of their mental or physical health condition. If you feel pressured by testing time limits, an accommodation to extend your time may benefit you.
6. Practice Self-Care
Practice self-care before your test by eating well, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and spending time with your social circle doing activities you enjoy. There are also some relaxion techniques that may help reduce your anxious feelings around testing. Take some time before your test to practice deep breathing or mindfulness exercises. Self-care can be essential for your mental health and overall well-being. You may perform better on your test if you feel mentally and physically well.
How To Manage Stress On The Day Of The Test
On the day of your test, consider following these test anxiety tips.
1. Rest Well
Getting a good night’s sleep on the day before your test can benefit you. Studies show that proper sleep is essential to health and public wellness. You may also feel more able to think clearly on test day if you have slept and rested your brain.
2. Eat Well
Fuel your body and mind with a healthy breakfast and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. It may also be beneficial to skip caffeinated and sugary drinks on the day of the test, as they may increase feelings of fear or anxiety.
3. Gather Your Materials In The Morning
To reduce stress before the test, prepare by gathering necessary materials like paper, pencils, or a calculator. Consider bringing earplugs if you get easily distracted by noise.
4. Arrive Early
Running late may increase testing anxiety. Leave your location early to ensure you don't face any issues arriving at the testing location. When you arrive at your testing site, practice deep breathing or on-the-go mindfulness.
5. Take Deep Breaths During The Test
If you're feeling high pressure, try to tell yourself this is one test. Your test score does not define you or determine your self-worth. Try to stay calm by relaxing your body and practicing deep breathing. Stay in the present moment and focus on the current task—don’t worry about what other students are doing. Focus on one question at a time, read carefully, and break it into smaller chunks.
If you can't answer a question, move on to the next question and return to it. Focus on the current task and avoid getting distracted by others around you. Try not to consider your grade. Numbers or scores do not necessarily define your future success.
What are the signs of test anxiety?
Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety whose presentation can differ from person to person. Some common signs of test anxiety include:
- Physical signs, like sweating, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness.
- Emotional signs, like insecurity, fear, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority, and irritability.
- Cognitive signs, like difficulty concentrating, restlessness, procrastination, and difficulty sleeping.
How can I reduce my test anxiety?
Reducing test anxiety often means managing the thoughts and feelings associated with exams. Racing thoughts, such as thinking that you aren’t capable or are certain to fail the test, can get out of control and make it harder to regulate your feelings. If you feel thoughts of test anxiety getting out of your control, it is likely helpful to distract yourself from them consciously. Force out negativity by visualizing success and deliberately telling yourself that you can succeed, even if you don’t fully believe it.
Dealing with the emotional reactions caused by test anxiety often begins by ensuring that you have good mental health self-care. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, especially if you tend to worry a lot the night before a test. Eat a healthy diet, and don’t go into your test hungry. You may also want to consider adopting a physical activity routine, which evidence suggests can significantly lower anxious feelings.
Is test anxiety a mental illness?
Test anxiety is not a diagnosable condition, but the feelings of anxiety can have a substantial impact. Test anxiety is also likely more common in those with anxiety disorders, which are mental illnesses that can increase anxiety in many situations. While test anxiety may not be a mental illness in its own right, it still has a substantial impact, and sustained test anxiety may mean that someone is at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
Why do we get test anxiety?
The causes of test anxiety are varied and can differ from person to person. Some people get test anxiety because their previous academic performance was not on par with their expectations, some people may be struggling with the academic content itself, and poor time management or study skills may challenge others. Fear of failure, lack of preparation, and uncertainty about the subject material are common themes that appear in those who report high levels of test anxiety. It is also possible for test anxiety to appear after poor performance on one exam or after a sustained pattern of difficulty.
How can students overcome test anxiety?
Test anxiety is common, and there are many basic strategies students can use to overcome the negative thoughts and feelings associated with it. If those strategies don’t work and test anxiety remains a burden, it will likely be helpful to speak to a mental health professional about how symptoms can best be managed.
Some common steps to take to reduce test anxiety are listed below:
- Start studying early. Procrastination is a significant driver of anxiety surrounding tests.
- Practice good self-care by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting adequate exercise.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others during the test.
- Practice calming techniques, like taking a moment to breathe deeply and slowly when test anxiety strikes. Learn ways to relax that work best for you.
- After the test, recognize that you worked hard and put in your best effort, no matter the results. A poor grade on one test rarely damages a student’s academic career substantially; it may be worthwhile to think of it as guidance on how to improve.
How common is test anxiety?
It is common to feel stressed before, during, or after a test. Evidence suggests that approximately 20% to 40% of students experience test anxiety at some point in their academic careers. Many of those students can address their anxiety by taking proactive steps, such as seeking the help of a counselor to develop coping skills before their anxiety becomes debilitating. Other students may only experience test anxiety in certain subjects or early in their academic careers.
What are the two types of test anxiety?
The two types of test anxiety may refer to somatic anxiety and cognitive anxiety. Somatic anxiety is what you are feeling, like hopelessness or fear, while cognitive anxiety refers to the thoughts that drive those feelings, such as inferiority or a lack of preparedness. Somatic anxiety often manifests as physical sensations, like a rapid heartbeat, quick breathing, or lightheadedness. It can be distracting and difficult to manage during a test. Cognitive anxiety often includes thoughts like “I am going to fail” or “I’m not smart enough to pass this test.”
What is the best medicine for test anxiety?
Some of the best ways to manage test anxiety are to ensure adequate self-care and avoid procrastination. Studying well before you need to can increase feelings of preparation and thoughts of success, reducing the worry surrounding the test. Good self-care is also important for managing anxiety in all parts of life. Getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, and adopting an exercise routine are all important. Exercise may be especially important, as it is associated with a substantial reduction in anxiety symptoms across all settings, not just in the classroom.
How does test anxiety affect learning?
Test anxiety, like other forms of anxiety, is an improper activation of the body’s fight or flight system. A hormone called adrenaline increases heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, producing the characteristic physical feelings of anxiety. The body releases adrenaline before, during, and sometimes after a test, depending on how a person’s anxiety presents. The anxiety response can cause trouble focusing and thinking, making test-taking more challenging and increasing the difficulty of preparing for the next exam.
The effect of anxiety can substantially lower a person’s grade, disrupt their academic achievement, and lower their overall well-being. Compound effects may also occur, where a person’s self-esteem and confidence are reduced, increasing feelings of anxiety. Although many people can manage their test anxiety independently, some may need professional help to reduce their symptoms.
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