Test Taking and Anxiety

Overview of Test Taking and Anxiety

Test anxiety is a feeling of agitation and distress associated with test taking, which impacts your ability to study or perform on the test. Some anxiety is natural and helps to keep you mentally and physically alert, but too much may cause physical distress, emotional upset, and concentration difficulties.

The Effects and Causes of Test Anxiety

Physiological reactions to anxiety may include rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, queasiness, dry mouth, or perspiration. Behavioral reactions may include and inability to act, make decisions, express yourself, or to deal with everyday situations. Psychological reactions may include feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, upset, and self-doubt.


What Can Be Done

Changing Your Attitude

Improving your beliefs and attitudes about the test-taking experience can actually help you enjoy studying and may improve your performance. Don't overplay the importance of the grade - it is not a reflection of your self-worth, nor does it predict your future success. Try the following:

  • Remember that the most reasonable expectation is to try to show as much of what you know as you can.
  • Remind yourself that a test is only a test - there will be others.
  • Avoid thinking of yourself in irrational, all-or-nothing terms.
  • Reward yourself after the test - watch a movie, go out to eat, or visit with friends.

Attend to the Basics

Students preparing for tests often neglect basic biological, emotional, and social needs. Remember to:

  • Have good nutrition and exercise habits.
  • Follow a moderate pace when studying and take breaks when needed.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before the test.

The Day of the Test

To be able to do your best on the day of the test we suggest the following:

  • Begin your day with a moderate breakfast and avoid coffee if you are prone to "caffeine jitters."
  • Try to do something relaxing the hour before the test - last minute cramming will cloud your mastering of the overall concepts of the course.
  • Plan to arrive at the test location early - this will allow you to relax and to select a seat located away from doors, windows, and other distractions.
  • Avoid classmates who generate anxiety and tend to upset your stability.
  • If waiting for the test to begin causes anxiety, distract yourself by reading a magazine or newspaper.

During the Test: Basic Strategies

  • First review the entire test, and read the directions twice. Try to think of the test as an opportunity to show the professor what you know. Organize your time efficiently; work on the easiest portions of the test first.
  • For essay questions, construct a short outline for yourself - then begin your answer with a summary sentence. For short-answer questions, answer only what is asked - short and to the point. If you have difficulty with an item involving a written response, show what knowledge you can. If proper terminology evades you, show what you know with your own words
  • For multiple choice questions, read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious. Unsure of the correct response? Rely on your first impression, then move on quickly. Beware of tricky qualifying words such as "only," "always," or "most."
  • Do not rush through the test. Wear a watch and check it frequently as you pace yourself. If it appears you will be unable to finish the entire test, concentrate on those portions that you can answer well. Recheck your answers only if you have extra time - and only if you are not anxious.

During the Test: Anxiety Control

Curb excess anxiety in any of the following ways:

  • Tell yourself, "I can be anxious later, now is the time to take the exam."
  • Focus on answering the question, not on your grade or others' performances.
  • Counter negative thoughts with other, more valid thoughts like, "I don't have to be perfect."
  • Tense and relax muscles throughout your body; take a couple of slow deep breaths and try to maintain a positive attitude.
  • If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Ask the instructor a question.
  • Think for a moment about the post-exam reward you promised yourself.

After the Test

Whether you did well or not, be sure to follow through on the reward you promised yourself - and enjoy it!


How We Can Help

SHCS provides acute care, drop-in services, brief individual therapy, group therapy, and referrals for on-going therapy

You can schedule an intake with a counselor at North Hall by calling (530) 752-2349Acute Care drop-in services are available on the first floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center.