6. Test Anxiety


Most students experience some level f anxiety during an exam. However, when anxiety begins to affect exam performance it has become a problem.

What Causes Test Anxiety

Lack of preparation as indicated by

  • cramming the night before the exam.
  • poor time management
  • failure to organize text information
  • poor study habits.

Worrying about the following:

  • past performance on exams
  • how friends and other students are doing.
  • the negative consequences of failure.

Physical Sings of Test Anxiety

During an exam, as in any stressful situations,  a student may experience any of the following bodily changes:

  • perspiration
  • sweaty palms
  • headache
  • upset stomach
  • rapid heart beat
  • tense muscles

Effects of Test Anxiety


  • Having difficulty reading and understanding the questions on the exam paper.
  • Having difficulty organizing your thoughts.
  • Having difficulty retrieving key words and concepts when answering essay questions.
  • Doing poorly on an exam even though you know the material.

Mental Blocking

  • Going blank on questions
  • Remembering the correct answers as soon as the exam is over.

How to Reduce Test Anxiety

  • Study and know the material well enough so that you can recall it even if you are under stress.
  • Learn and practice good time management and avoid:
    • laziness
    • procrastination
    • day dreaming
  • Build confidence by studying throughout the semester and avoid cramming the night before the exam.
  • Learn to concentrate on the material you are studying by:
    • generating questions from your textbooks and lecture notes.
    • focusing on key words, concepts and examples in your textbooks and lecture notes.
    • making charts and outlines which organize the information in your notes and textbooks.
  • Use relaxation techniques, for example, taking long deep breath to relax the body and reduce stress.

Study Habits & Test Anxiety

The following information provides tips for better study habits and decreased test anxiety.

The Immediate Environment

The environment in which you study can have a big effect on how efficient your study time is. Check your place of study for the following conditions:

  • Noise
  • Interruptions
  • Lighting
  • Temperature
  • Neatness
  • Comfort
  • Equipment

Minimize distracting noise. Some people need some sound and some like silence. Find what works for you.

Avoid family and friends. Considers a “do no disturb sign” and turning on your answering machine. You can catch up with folks later.

75 watts bulbs are best, but not too close and placed opposite the dominant hand. Better cool than warm.

Have plenty of room to work; don’t be cramped. Your study time will go better if you take a few minutes at the start to straighten things up.

A desk and straight-backed chair is usually best. Don’t get too comfortable – a bed is a place to sleep, not study.

Have everything (book, pencils, paper, coffee, dictionary, typewriter, calculator, tape recorder, etc.) close at hand. Don’t speed your time jumping up and down to get things.

Preparing for or Anticipating Test Anxiety

  • What is it you have to do? Focus on dealing with it.
  • Just take one step at a time.
  • Think about what you can do about it. That’s better than getting anxious.
  • No negative or panicky self-statements; just think nationally.
  • Don’t worry; worrying won’t help anything.

Confronting and Handling Test Anxiety

  • Don’t think about fear; think about what you have to do.
  • Stay relevant.
  • Relax; you’re in control. Take a slow, deep breath.
  • You should expect some anxiety; just keep it manageable.
  • You can convince yourself to do it. You can reason your fear away.
  • It’s not the worst thing that can happen.
  • Do something that will prevent you from think about fear.
  • Describe what is around you. That way you won’t think about worrying.

Reinforcing Self-Statements

  • It worked! You did it!
  • It wasn’t as bad as you expected.
  • You made more out of  the fear than it was worth.
  • You;re getting better. You’re learning to cope more smoothly.
  • You can be pleased with your progress.
  • You like how you handled it. You can be proud of  it.

List of Self Verbalization: Key to Recognizing Test Anxiety

This list below contains some common thoughts and worries which many test anxious people have. Check those which you can identify with most. Feel free to add statements which more accurately reflect what usually goes on in your head.

A. Worry about Performance.

  • I should have studied more… I will never get through.
  • I just want to finish and get out of here and hope for the best.
  • I don’t know anything… what’s the matter with me.
  • My mind is a blank. I’ll never get the answer… I must really be stupid.
  • I can’t figure out what the professor wants… no way I’ll do well on this test.
  • I can’t remember a thing… this always happens to me… I never do well on anything.
  • Only 10 minutes left… there are so many questions… I’ll never get through everything.
  • I just can’t think… why did I ever take this course.
  • It’s no use… might as well give up.
  • I knew this stuff yesterday… what’s wrong with me.
  • My mind is a blank… I’m just not cut our for this.
  • I have to get an A… smart people always get A’s.
  • This stuff is easy… I should get everything right.
  • This is terrible, absolutely the worst test I’ve ever had.
  • I’m just a no good, terrible, worthless person.

B. Worry About Bodily Reactions

  • I am sick… I will never get through.
  • I am sweating all over… It’s really hot in here.
  • My hands are shaking again… can’t even hold the lousy pen.
  • My stomach’s going crazy… churning and jumping.
  • Here is comes… I am getting really tense again… normal people just don’t get like this.

C. Worry About How Others Are Doing.

  • I  know everyone’s doing better than I am.
  • I must be the dumbest one in the class.
  • I am going to be the last on e done again… I must really be stupid.
  • No one else seems to be having trouble… am I the only one?

D. Worry About Possible Negative Consequences:

  • If I fail this test, I’ll…
  • flunk the course
  • be kicked out of school
  • never get into graduate school
  • have to get A’s on the midterm and final
  • have to go to summer school
  • never get a good grade
  • never graduate on time
  • never get the kind of job I want
  • my family (or friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher, etc.) will really be disappointed in me… I ‘ll never be able to face them again
  • everyone will think I’m stupid… I’ll really be embarrassed.