6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Manage It – Student Success (2023)

Chapter 6 Test Taking

6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Manage It – Student Success (1)

Taking tests and exams can be stressful. Some people get very anxious before or during a test and it can impact their test results.

Exercise: Testing Your Test Anxiety

(Video) 5 Insanely Easy Test Taking Tips for Nursing Students (you can start using TODAY)

Take the true-or-false quiz below (circle T for true or F for false). There are no wrong answers.

I have a hard time starting to study for a test.TF
When studying for an exam, I feel desperate or lost.TF
When studying for an exam, I often feel bored and tired.TF
I don’t sleep well the night before an exam.TF
My appetite changes the day of the exam. (I’m not hungry and skip meals or I overeat—especially high-sugar items like candy or ice cream.)TF
When taking an exam, I am often confused or suffer mental blocks.TF
When taking an exam, I feel panicky and my palms get sweaty.TF
I’m usually in a bad mood after taking an exam.TF
I usually score lower on exams than on papers, assignments, and projects.TF
After an exam, I can remember things I couldn’t recall during the exam.TF
6.1 Test Anxiety and How to Manage It – Student Success (2)

If you answered true to any of the statements in the table above, you have suffered some of the symptoms of test anxiety. Most people have experienced this. It is normal to feel stress before an exam, and in fact, that may be a good thing. Stress motivates you to study and review, generates adrenaline to help sharpen your reflexes and focus while taking the exam, and may even help you remember some of the material you need. But suffering too many stress symptoms or suffering any of them severely will impede your ability to show what you have learned. Test anxiety can be defined as “a state of uneasiness and distress before and during a test that often lowers performance.” Anxiety during a test interferes with your ability to recall knowledge from memory as well as your ability to use higher-level thinking skills effectively. To learn more about critical thinking and study skills, see Chapter 5 Study Skills.

There are steps you should take if you find that stress is getting in your way:

  • Be prepared. A primary cause of test anxiety is not knowing the material and not knowing what to expect. If you use good study habits and review regularly, this stressor should be greatly reduced if not eliminated. You should be confident going into your exam. Cramming at the last minute, or feeling unsure of your knowledge of course material can increase your stress level. Make sure to find out how the exam is structured and what material to study. Double check the exam time and location.
  • Address negative thoughts. Your own negative thoughts—“I’ll never pass this exam” or “I can’t figure this out, I must be really stupid!”—may move you into spiraling stress cycle that in itself causes enough anxiety to block your best efforts. When you feel you are brewing a storm of negative thoughts, stop what you are doing and clear your mind. Go for a walk. Confide in a friend. Meditate. Do some deep breathing. Don’t go back to work until you feel the tension release. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath and shout “STOP!” and then proceed with clearing your mind. Once your mind is clear, repeat a reasonable affirmation to yourself—“I know this stuff” or “I will study hard until I know this stuff”—before continuing your work.
  • Visualize success. Picture what it will feel like to get the grade you want. Translate that vision into specific, reasonable goals and work toward each individual goal. Visualize success of each goal. Take one step at a time and reward yourself for each goal you complete.
  • It’s all about you! Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to other students in the class, especially during the exam. Keep focused on your own work and your own plan. Exams are not a race, so it doesn’t matter who turns in their paper first. In fact, those who take more time have the ability to explain their points more fully or to check their work for mistakes. Worrying about why someone turned their paper in early is counterproductive and will only cause additional anxiety.
  • Have a plan and follow it. As soon as you know that an exam is coming, you can develop a plan for studying. As soon as you get your exam paper, you should develop a plan for the exam itself. This will be discussed further later in this chapter. Don’t wait to cram for an exam at the last minute; the pressure you put on yourself and the late night will cause more anxiety, and you won’t learn or retain much.
  • Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep before the exam. Hunger, poor eating habits, energy drinks, and lack of sleep all contribute to test anxiety. Going to bed early with the assurance that you worked hard to prepare for the test goes a long way to experiencing peace going into an exam.
  • Arrive early. Trying to cram or leaving things to the last minute can cause a huge amount of stress if you end up frantically racing to the exam. It increases anxiety when you are worried about being late. It’s even worse if you actually are late. You’ll have the added stress of entering the exam room late and you’ll lose valuable time that could have been spent doing the test. This kind of anxiety can last all the way through the test. Prepare for the unexpected so that a late bus or a traffic jam doesn’t throw you into a state of anxiety. Be early!
  • Chill! You perform best when you are relaxed, so learn some relaxation exercises you can use during an exam. Before you begin your work, take a moment to listen to your body. Which muscles are tense? Move them slowly to relax them. Tense them and relax them. Try it right now. Exhale, then continue to exhale for a few more seconds until you feel that your lungs are empty. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your rib cage expand as you do. This will help oxygenate your blood and re-energize your mind. Go online for many more ways to deal with stress.
  • Get help. If exam anxiety is persistent and debilitating, and if it is getting worse despite your best effort to address it, seek help from Student Services.

Video: “Calm Test Anxiety & Relaxation Breathing Technique” (length 3:23)

(Video) Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona responds to drop in student test scores amid pandemic

Exercise: Talking Back to Your Anxious Self

You’ve learned how negative thoughts contribute to test anxiety and keep you from doing as well as you can. Take some time to disarm your most frequent offenders. From the following list, select three negative thoughts that you have experienced (or write your own). Then fill in the second and third columns for each statement, as shown in the example.

(Video) Reducing Test Anxiety

Examples of negative thoughts:

  • I don’t know anything… What’s the matter with me?
  • If I fail this test, I’ll flunk the course.
  • I should have studied more… I’ll never make it through.
  • I just can’t think… Why did I ever take this course?
  • I know everyone’s doing better than I am.
  • If I fail this test, my spouse (or partner, parents, teacher, friend) will be mad or disappointed in me. I don’t know how I can face them again.
  • I’m going to be the last one done again… I must really be stupid.
  • I’m getting really tense again; my hands are shaking… I can’t even hold the pen.
  • I can’t remember a thing… This always happens to me… I never do well on anything.
What are your anxious statements?
My anxious statementHow rational is this thought? Do you have any evidence that it is true?Reasonable reinforcing or affirmation statements you can use to replace it.
Example: I’m drawing a blank.…I’ll never get the answer…I must really be stupid.I’ve missed questions on things that I studied and knew before (but still passed the test anyway.)


It’s not reasonable to think I’ll never get the answer. I have forgotten things before that came back to me further along in the test.

I studied this and know it. I’ll visualize where it’s written in my notes to help me trigger my memory. I’ll come back to this at the end and I should think of it by then. I’m not stupid. I will get this.

Key Takeaways

  • Some stress before a test or exam is common and beneficial.
  • Test anxiety is stress that gets in the way of performing effectively.
  • The most common causes of test anxiety are lack of preparation and negative attitudes.
  • The key to combating test anxiety is to try to reduce stressors to a manageable level rather than try to eliminate them totally.

Exercise: Managing Stress

  1. List three (or more) things you should do before a test or exam to combat test anxiety.
  2. List three (or more) things you can do during an exam to reduce stress.
(Video) How to Reduce Test Anxiety: Research Report

Text Attributions

This chapter has been adapted and remixed from the following sources:

Video Attributions


How does a student manage test anxiety? ›

To help you stay calm and confident right before and during the test, perform relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, relaxing your muscles one at a time, or closing your eyes and imagining a positive outcome. Don't forget to eat and drink. Your brain needs fuel to function.

How do you manage anxiety in the learning process? ›

Learning Anxiety: 10 Ways to Calm Your Mind
  1. Identify the source of your anxiety. ...
  2. Try mindfulness training. ...
  3. Seek support. ...
  4. Prioritise your physical health. ...
  5. Plan and organise. ...
  6. Distance yourself. ...
  7. Emphasise positive self-talk. ...
  8. Focus on your breathing.
22 Jan 2018

What are the four main sources of test anxiety? ›

What Causes Your Test Anxiety?
  • Being afraid that you won't live up to the expectations of important people in your life; worrying that you will lose the affection of people you care about if you don't succeed.
  • Believing grades are an estimation of your personal worth.
  • Placing too much emphasis on a single test.

How do you break the test anxiety cycle? ›

A little tension before a test is good.
Once you've stopped it for a moment, you can use any one of the following techniques.
  1. Daydream. When you fill your mind with pleasant thoughts there is no room left for anxiety. ...
  2. Visualize success. ...
  3. Focus your attention on a specific object. ...
  4. Praise yourself. ...
  5. Consider the worst.

What is the main focus of test anxiety? ›

What Is Test Anxiety? Test anxiety is actually a type of performance anxiety — a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure's on to do well.

What is test anxiety and how it affects students? ›

What is Test Anxiety? According to VeryWellMind, Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations. While many people experience some type of stress and anxiety before and during exams, test anxiety can impair learning and hurt good test performance.

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

What are the 5 techniques to deal with anxiety? ›

5 Ways to Cope With Anxiety
  • Start with a 'growth' mindset. Some people have a fixed mindset. ...
  • Notice how anxiety affects your body. When you're anxious, do you feel "butterflies" in your stomach? ...
  • Breathe. ...
  • Talk yourself through it. ...
  • Face the situation — don't wait for anxiety to go away.

What are the 6 common test techniques? ›

The common test techniques are: multiple choice, Yes/No and True/False, short answer, gap filling items.

What 3 things can test anxiety affect? ›

Emotional symptoms of test anxiety can include depression, low self-esteem, anger, and a feeling of hopelessness.

What are the two types of test anxiety? ›


One type of test anxiety is somatic, which is what you are feeling. 2. The second type of test anxiety is cognitive, which is what you are thinking.

Can test anxiety make you fail? ›

Test anxiety can lead to poor performance on tests. Here's how to recognize the symptoms and find ways to manage the anxiety.

Why do I fail even when I study? ›

The problem: You procrastinate studying, not leaving yourself enough time to absorb the material before test day. The solution: Create a routine that involves reviewing your notes regularly. Each night, take a few minutes to go over your notes from class.

How Do I Stop overthinking after exams? ›

If you're feeling like this after any of your exams, please try not to panic too much.
Here are 5 different ways for you to stay calm and get on with your life.
  1. Don't overthink it. ...
  2. Do something you enjoy. ...
  3. Push on. ...
  4. Get an early night. ...
  5. Try some relaxation techniques.

How can I avoid anxiety? ›

Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
  1. Keep physically active. ...
  2. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  3. Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  4. Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  5. Make sleep a priority. ...
  6. Eat healthy foods. ...
  7. Learn about your disorder.
20 Jul 2021

How does anxiety affect student performance? ›

When students have anxiety and depression that goes unnoticed their mental health is at risk, which can lead to social and behavioral problems, poor performance and learning, neglected hygiene, poor self care practices and low self esteem.

How test anxiety affects performance? ›

In fact, students who struggle with test anxiety typically fall a half a letter grade below their peers. In addition to academic impacts, text anxiety can affect a student's mental health, including lowered self-esteem, confidence, and motivation.

What are the three most common factors that cause test anxiety? ›

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety in students stems from three things:
  • Fear of failure. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to do well that our fear of failure can overcome us. ...
  • Lack of preparation. ...
  • Poor test history.

What is the 5 second rule for anxiety? ›

Mel Robbins explains the rule as, “The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it. The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.

What are 3 strategies to reduce anxiety? ›

Anxiety management strategies
  • Slow breathing. When you're anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. ...
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet location. ...
  • Stay in the present moment. ...
  • Healthy lifestyle. ...
  • Take small acts of bravery. ...
  • Challenge your self-talk. ...
  • Plan worry time. ...
  • Get to know your anxiety.

What are good habits for anxiety? ›

10 Daily Habits That Can Reduce Your Anxiety
  • Talk to Someone. ...
  • Exercise Daily. ...
  • Practice Mindfulness. ...
  • Be Grateful. ...
  • Start a Journal. ...
  • Practice Good Sleep Hygiene. ...
  • Treat Yourself. ...
  • Limit Your Social Media Intake.
15 Jun 2021

What is the most successful treatment for anxiety? ›

Psychotherapy. Also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling, psychotherapy involves working with a therapist to reduce your anxiety symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective form of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder.

What are tools for anxiety? ›

10 Effective Anxiety Management Tools
  • Controlled breathing. Controlled breathing aims to reduce physiological symptoms of anxiety by regulating breathing. ...
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. ...
  • Calming imagery. ...
  • Distraction. ...
  • Thought challenging. ...
  • Compassionate self-talk. ...
  • Worry time. ...
  • Behavioral experiments and graded exposure.
24 Dec 2021

What are the 6 causes of anxiety? ›

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:
  • Trauma. ...
  • Stress due to an illness. ...
  • Stress buildup. ...
  • Personality. ...
  • Other mental health disorders. ...
  • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. ...
  • Drugs or alcohol.

What are the 7 principle of testing? ›

The seven principles of testing
  • Testing shows the presence of defects, not their absence. ...
  • Exhaustive testing is impossible. ...
  • Early testing saves time and money. ...
  • Defects cluster together. ...
  • Beware of the pesticide paradox. ...
  • Testing is context dependent. ...
  • Absence-of-errors is a fallacy.

What are 5 testing strategies? ›

Test Taking Strategies
  • Attend class regularly.
  • Avoid cramming spread out study sessions days or weeks before the test; you will have less stress.
  • Organize your study area to reduce interference. ...
  • Summarize notes for studying. ...
  • Study from old tests if allowed by the professor.

What are 3 good test taking strategies? ›

Survey the entire test prior to taking the exam. Take a few deep breaths and relax tense muscle - repeat throughout the test. Read directions carefully - ask questions.

What are 6 physical symptoms of test anxiety? ›

Symptoms of test anxiety

Physical symptoms: Headache, nausea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and feeling faint.

How do high schools deal with test anxiety? ›

Test Anxiety Tips
  1. Be prepared.
  2. Get a good night's sleep.
  3. Fuel up.
  4. Get to class—or the testing site—early .
  5. Have a positive mental attitude .
  6. Read carefully.
  7. Just start.
  8. Don't pay attention to what other people are doing.

Does test anxiety affect IQ? ›

The study found that students who reported higher levels of anxiety were also the ones who scored higher on tests. Because the evidence gathered in this study was self-reported, more research is needed in this area to fully understand how or why verbal intelligence may be linked to stress and anxiety.

Why am I studying but not getting good grades? ›

So, because of cramming you may also get bad grades after studying hard. Instead of cramming or studying a lot day before the exam, study the whole session. And agree or not, the student who studies the whole session, never cram.

How Do I Stop overthinking about failure? ›

10 Simple Ways You Can Stop Yourself From Overthinking
  1. Awareness is the beginning of change. ...
  2. Don't think of what can go wrong, but what can go right. ...
  3. Distract yourself into happiness. ...
  4. Put things into perspective. ...
  5. Stop waiting for perfection. ...
  6. Change your view of fear. ...
  7. Put a timer to work.
4 Jan 2016

What are 3 ways to stop overthinking? ›

3 Steps to Stop Overthinking
  1. 1) Awareness always helps. Identify those thoughts and flag them as harmful. ...
  2. 2) Redirect your attention to something else that requires focus. ...
  3. 3) Interrupt your unneeded thoughts whenever they come up, and plan ahead for a positive thought to switch to.

How do I relax before a test? ›

Here are some tips to help you stay calm during exams.
  1. Prepare for your exams well in advance. ...
  2. Put the exam in perspective. ...
  3. Get a good night's sleep beforehand. ...
  4. Eat sensibly before the exam. ...
  5. Stop studying about an hour before the exam. ...
  6. Know the time and place of the exam. ...
  7. Develop positive self-talk.

How can we reduce examination anxiety and fear among students? ›

When getting ready for exams try to:
  1. Prepare ahead of time by working on sections of the content each day.
  2. Use practice exam papers as an opportunity to manage anxiety.
  3. Identify your anxiety early by noticing your physical responses.
29 Oct 2016

How can high school students reduce test anxiety? ›

Take practice exams. People are less likely to become anxious when doing something that is familiar. If your instructor gives you the opportunity to take practice exams, take advantage of the opportunity to study the tests and become familiar with their format and style.

Can we reduce test anxiety? ›

Integrating relaxation techniques into your pre-test routine can help you relax before and during the test. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are relaxation techniques to counteract feelings of anxiety and bring the mind and body back into equilibrium. Maintain a realistic viewpoint.

How can students overcome fear? ›

1. Overcoming Worry
  1. Step 1 – Identify the problem.
  2. Step 2 – Identify the possible solutions.
  3. Step 3 – List the pros and cons for each solution.
  4. Step 4 – Create an action plan.
  5. Step 5 – Implement the action plan.
  6. Step 6 – Review the plan and make amendments / changes.

What is the most effective strategy to manage test anxiety select one? ›

Practice! One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to take practice tests. To overcome test-taking anxiety, practice test-taking in a test-like environment, like a study room in the library.

What is the biggest cause of test anxiety? ›

Poor study habits, poor past test performance, and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety. Fear of failure: If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.


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