Test Anxiety

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is said to occur when one's anxiety about a test interferes with one's performance on that test. So, when anxiety gets in the way of performance, we have test anxiety.

Actually some anxiety helps to motivate us and to improve our performance on tests and other tasks. Usually there is an optimum level of anxiety that will give us our "competitive edge." It is when anxiety goes beyond this optimum range and becomes excessive that our performance on a task begins to suffer.

What are the signs of test anxiety?

  • Blanking out during a test is a classic sign of test anxiety. When one blanks out, they are not able to remember material that they know until they are out of the testing situation. Before you go into the test room, you know the material; the professor gives you the test and then you don't know it; you leave the test room and suddenly you know it again.
  • Performance is much lower than what you are capable of due to anxiety. Common signs of anxiety include:

    • Sweaty Palms
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Muscle tension
    • Tension headaches
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Hyperventilation - quick, shallow breathing which can lead to a person becoming dizzy and possibly passing out.
So what do you do for test anxiety?
  • Know the material! You can't remember what you don't know! Develop good study habits. Find a quiet place to study and study there on a regular basis. Use this area only for studying - this will help you to go into "study mode" when you are in this particular place. By knowing the material, you build your confidence and sense of control over the situation.
  • Imagine yourself recalling the information in the classroom on the day of the test while you are studying.
  • If this produces too much anxiety, then practice relaxing: imagine a calm, relaxing scene (the beach, a lake, a forest); download and listen to pleasant, soft music; learn deep muscle relaxation. Once very calm, imagine yourself successfully remembering information in the classroom on the day of the test. If you are overwhelmed repeatedly by anxiety, you may need to seek professional help.
  • Positive self-talk is very important. Tell yourself that "all I can do is my best and my best is all I can do." Give yourself a break; you are going to miss some questions. Expect it. Don't panic over it. Prepare well and tell yourself that you are as prepared as you'll ever be once you sit down in the classroom before the exam.
  • Spend the last hour before a test being calm and relaxed. Spend your last hour quietly.
  • When you get the test, scan it, and tackle the questions you think you'll need more time with first - such as essay or short answer questions. Look for a question you have really studied for and answer it. Don't worry about what you don't know; put down what you do know.
  • If you feel yourself getting panicky, slow down, back off, breathe deeply, imagine your calming scene, search your body for tension and let it go. In most cases, practice is the difference between good test-taking and bad test-taking habits.
  • Remain positive. Do not tell yourself, "I'm going to fail this test and my college career is over!" Relax. Instead, remember, "All I can do is my best and my best is all I can do."

If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of test anxiety, get the help that is available at the University. Contact Counseling Services at 256-782-5475 and schedule an appointment to talk with a counselor for more information.

Courtesy of Mississippi State University