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Test Anxiety

Most people feel at least some anxiety when taking tests. A certain level of stress actually keeps people alert and helps them perform at their optimum level. Overwhelming anxiety, however, hinders concentration, critical thinking, and decreases performance. When people focus on all the negative things that could go wrong when taking a test, anxiety increases, and your body releases adrenaline (your “fight or flight” response). This causes physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart and breathing, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and trouble recalling the test material.

Three Major Sources of Test Anxiety:

  • Behavior that is learned from the expectations of significant people in your life such as your parents and teachers.

  • Associating your worth with your grades and test performance.

  • A desire to please and not disappoint your family or friends with poor performance.

Luckily, there are ways to preventatively and proactively decrease test anxiety. Here’s how.

  • STUDY, don’t cram! Be familiar with the material, be able to walk in to the test with confidence know that you are prepared and you know the information.

  • Take CARE of yourself by getting adequate sleep and eating healthy meals.

  • Use POSITIVE self-talk to change your feelings (“I know the material.”

“I’ve studied and prepared as best I can.”)

  • Keep things in PERSPECTIVE. One test will not make or break your future. “It’s just a test. Do the best I can do.” Eliminate perfectionistic expectations.

  • Use controlled BREATHING to calm the body:

-Breathe in through nose for 5 seconds, out through mouth 8 seconds.

-Progressive Muscle Relaxation: tense groups of muscles for 5 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds

  • Get a mental PICTURE:

-Close your eyes and calm your breath.

-Visualize yourself doing well.

-Visualize a time when you succeeded on a test.

-Imagine yourself slowly getting better at test-taking.

  • Use test STRATEGIES:

-Eliminate wrong answers.

-Skip the questions you don’t know the answer to and come back to them.

-Write down notes when you get the test of things you’re afraid you’ll forget.

  • CELEBRATE your hard work.


Yvette Stupart, PhD, Overcoming Test Anxiety

Lisa Collins, Effective Strategies for Dealing with Test Anxiety, Ohio Literacy Resource Center

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