Test anxiety is a common problem among college students. It is normal to feel pressure before and during tests, especially when the results of the test will have significant consequences on your future.
A certain amount of stress is helpful for your performance. This useful stress (also called eustress) motivates you to study hard and attempt to do well on your tests. However, too much stress can cause distress, which can result in test anxiety or occasionally even lead to a more severe form of text anxiety, called test phobia. It is important to understand these two potential difficulties so that you can recognize them in yourself if you experience them.
What is test anxiety?
Test anxiety happens when the pressure to do well on tests or the fear of failure leads to distress. It can cause you to forget information you learned and render you unable to solve problems you could in other situations.
How do I know if I am experiencing test anxiety?
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be experiencing test anxiety:
- When you are getting ready to take a test, does the pressure to do well on it prevent you from doing as well as you could?
- Do you often find yourself having negative thoughts, such as "I'll never pass this test" or experiencing exaggerated worries such as "If I don't pass this test, I will never graduate from college"?
- Do you find yourself experiencing physical signs of stress, such as nausea, tense shoulders or neck, knots in your stomach, dry mouth, pounding heartbeat, sweaty palms, or shaking hands?
- During tests, do you find yourself forgetting information that you know or unable to solve problems that you could in other settings?
If you think that you may be experiencing test anxiety, it is important to learn methods to reduce your anxiety and to seek help when needed.
What can I do before taking a test to reduce my anxiety?
- Begin studying well in advance of the test; study in short increments over time
- Learn effective time management and study strategies
- Discuss course content with your professors during their office hours
- Participate in study groups; organize a study group if one does not already exist
- Talk positively to yourself about your ability to do well one the test
- Visualize yourself doing well on the test
- Use stress relief techniques to help yourself relax
- Practice taking tests under timed conditions
- Exercise and eat nutritious meals
- Review key points the morning of the test
What can I do during a test during a test to reduce my anxiety?
- Read all of the directions carefully
- Answer the easiest questions first
- If you are having trouble with a question, skip it and move on. Return to it at the end of the test
- Don't get distracted by other students (Even if they are finishing the test sooner, it does not mean they are doing better)
Practice positive self-talk and keep the potential results of the test in perspective
Where can I get help?
Tutors, academic advisors, professors, and counselors all provide help for students with test anxiety. While there is some overlap in the services provided by each of these, there is a difference in the focus of help they provide. Academic advisors often help students improve their time management skills and develop good study habits. Tutors and professors can help students can help students understand the course content. Professors can also offer suggestions to improve study strategies specifically for their tests. Counselors can help students manage test-related stress and work through other life issues that may be effecting them.
What is test phobia?
Test phobia is a condition that goes beyond test anxiety. It is a severe fear of tests that interferes with normal life functioning. Test phobia sufferers often go to extreme measures to avoid tests. Even the thought of taking a test may cause a test phobia sufferer to have a panic attack or experience another strong reaction. If you think you may be experiencing test phobia, seek the assistance of a professional counselor. Many colleges have professional counselors on staff.
If you think you may be experiencing test anxiety, implement some of the suggested strategies above to help you cope with stress and to improve your study skills. In addition, you may find it helpful to seek help from college personnel and to utilize campus resources. If you are experiencing test phobia, it is imperative that you seek help from a qualified professional.