Test anxiety is a feeling of agitation or distress before, during or after an exam. Regarding tests, many of us experience physical or mental reactions such as feeling "butterflies in your stomach," an instant headache or sweaty palms.
It is normal (and can be useful!) to feel some anxiety before a test. Still, too much anxiety may be harmful to your exam performance.
Test anxiety has many symptoms, which include loss of sleep or appetite, sweaty palms, food cravings, and an inability to concentrate, to name a few.
Below are common test anxiety reactions: select the statements that you identify with most. If you choose more than five symptoms, you may experience test anxiety.
Most people experience these symptoms and are not harmful; however, if you experience ten or more, you may suffer from severe test anxiety.
- I do not sleep well the night before a test.
- I am always afraid that I will run out of time.
- I get sick if I eat anything before a test.
- I check the time constantly; noises bother me.
- I am irritable and hard to be around before a test.
- I get easily frustrated during the test.
- I see the test as a measure of my worth as a student.
- I have a negative attitude about testing.
- I blank out during the test and can't recall information.
- I think about not taking the test.
- I worry when others are still testing and I am finished.
- I consistently average my grades before the test.
- I worry when others finish and I am still testing.
- My body sweats, my heart pounds, I feel nauseous.
Take an assessment to determine if you have test anxiety and what you can do about it
Anxiety may cause physiological, behavioral or even psychological effects.
- Physiological - rapid heartbeat, knot in the stomach, headache, tension, profuse perspiration.
- Behavioral - indecisive about an answer, "going blank," inability to organize your thoughts.
- Psychological - feelings of nervousness, restlessness or continual doubt.
Test anxiety has many sources; most commonly, it is caused by exam preparation. Cramming the night before the exam, poor study habits, poor time management, lack of organization of the text, notes and homework are examples of being unprepared.
Test anxiety can also be caused by worrying about past test performance, how others are doing and the consequences if you don't do your best. These feelings may intensify if you are already on academic probation.
What can you do about test anxiety?
A mind is a powerful tool that may work either for or against you. An attitude adjustment can help manage test anxiety. Developing a positive mindset, visualizing success, preparing and practicing will help. Start by preparing before, during and after an exam.
- Give yourself enough time to review the material - start at least a week early.
- Ask your teacher what the test format will be: multiple-choice, essay, fill in the blank, true or false, etc.
- Ask your teacher questions such as: How long will the test be (amount of questions)?
- Is there a time limit? Will there be a study guide? Will there be a review session?
- Make a list of the topic/chapters/materials on the exam. Write down formulas, definitions or critical facts that you need to know. Look for these in your lecture notes, textbooks, sample tests, quizzes, and handouts.
- If it helps you, make flashcards, outlines, drawings, etc., to help you learn and remember the material. Visual aids such as these can help during the test.
- Pay attention to the areas your teacher spends a lot of time on in class. If your teacher spent two weeks emphasizing a subject, assume it will be on the exam.
- DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. Don't worry about the amount of material you need to know: that's wasting time. Instead, start studying! Give each topic enough review time and spend the most time on subjects emphasized by the teacher.
- Test yourself on the material. As you write problems on the board, talk aloud about what you are doing. (Give the lecture!) If you can speak and write about it, you know it.
- The night before the exam, gather any materials you might need: pencil, pen, calculator, Scantron®, etc. Then, get a good night's sleep.
- Avoid cramming. Cramming requires a great deal of energy, contributes to stress and tension and does not last. Cramming is one of the reasons you may "blank out."
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Some foods that are recommended to reduce stress include fresh fruits and vegetables. In general, high carbohydrate foods won't sustain you while proteins will. Figure out what is best for you to eat in the mornings.
- Be on time. Start early, get a good parking spot, walk relaxed, slow things down.
- READ THE DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. Directions include vital information such as where to write your answers, how to write your responses, whether spelling counts, if you need to show all your work, etc. You may lose vital points because you didn't follow directions.
- Pace yourself and budget your time. Avoid looking at the clock - just focus on the test.
- If you blank on a question, skip it and move on. Sometimes reading other test questions will help you remember answers to those questions you skipped.
- If others are turning in their tests, don't panic. There's no prize for finishing first. Stay focused.
- Remember to relax, breathe and don't think about fear or the exam consequences. Just put your best foot forward and do your personal best.
- Forget about it!. Yes! It's all over. Go home and relax.
- Don't talk to others about what was on the exam. Asking questions such as "What did you get for #35?" will not help you or the other person. Many professors give different exam versions (i.e., Version A, B, C), so you might not be asking about the same question. Worrying about an answer after the test is over contributes to testing anxiety.
- Treat yourself. If you have no other commitments (i.e., other exams or classes), spend some time relaxing.
- After a couple of hours, try to list some factors that improve your test taking and reduce your test anxiety. Even if you list only a few, it's still a starting point that will lead to the success of overcoming your test anxiety.
Contact one of the MCC Counselors directly, as needed to do additional work on managing test anxiety or visit one of the following:
Source: Adapted from: California Polytechnic State University