Even if you didn’t know the name for it, you probably recognize that creeping sense of dread and knot in the pit of your stomach when it’s test time. “Did I study enough?” “What if I forget everything?” “What if I don’t pass?” All those doubts, questions, and thoughts may be signs of test anxiety.
“It really has to do with a negative anticipation about tests, both in terms of the preparation for tests and actual performance on tests,” says Scott Bea, PsyD, a psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic. Test anxiety “can affect one’s study behaviors and testing behavior.”
There are physical and emotional signs of test anxiety. These include:
- Upset stomach and gastrointestinal problems
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling afraid
- Feeling negative or anxious
- Pacing or fidgeting
- Racing thoughts or blanking out
Causes of Test Anxiety
Test anxiety, says Bea, is actually very common. Why exactly does it happen? A number of factors can cause test anxiety, including:
- Previous bad testing experience
- Prior trauma, like going blank or doing very badly on a test
- Inability to study because of anxiety
- Lack of self-confidence
- Being afraid of failing
- Not being prepared for testing
Managing Test Anxiety
Even if you have test anxiety, you’re not destined to always get bad grades. “You can overcome it,” stresses Bea. “First you have to address what’s happening physiologically. Since people are daunted by the ideas of their bodies acting up, it distracts them from the cognitive thought process.” To combat the physical stress that test anxiety can cause, Bea suggests learning some relaxation strategies. Pay attention to your breath. See colors. Hear sounds. Touch what’s surrounds you. Blow bubbles.
PREPARE, though that doesn’t mean an all-night cramming session (which could backfire if you don’t get enough sleep.) So start studying and don’t avoid it because of fear. “If you’re prepared, that’s going to have a lot to do with test anxiety,” says Bea. It’s also important to look at a test as what it is-it’s just one test, a piece of paper- it doesn’t define the rest of your life.
For help contact Counseling Services or view resources on our website.