What Is Test Anxiety And How Can I Manage It?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 have difficulty completing a test or focus during an exam. However, there are strategies that may help you overcome test anxiety.

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Symptoms of test anxiety

An individual experiencing test anxiety may have physical and emotional symptoms.

Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:
  • A rapid heartbeat 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Nausea 
  • Faintness
  • The feeling of "butterflies" in your stomach 
  • Shakiness 
  • 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 living with a learning disability or mental health condition that impacts their testing process. For example, someone experiencing ADHD may have trouble focusing 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. 

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. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Gain professional support for test anxiety

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. 


If you're experiencing test anxiety, you're not alone. Many individuals experience symptoms of anxiety or stress before a test. If you're still struggling after trying the tips on the above list, consider reaching out to a counselor for further support. 
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