How to reduce test anxiety: Comprehensive Approach

October 24, 2020

Most of us feel nervous or anxious in contemplation of upcoming exams, even if we are well prepared. However, some students use it for their benefit and strongly concentrate on the task, while other students find it impossible to focus because of overwhelming anxiety.
As a result, clever and gifted students fail their tests, get poor grades, and, as a result, even can lose track of their future careers. But this is wrong! You know that, and we all know that.
So, we’ve prepared a guide for you, which will help you to understand the problem deeper and find ways to solve it or at least to realize when to look for expert assistance.

What Does It Mean to Feel Test Anxiety

Most of us know about “butterflies” in the stomach, which usually precede some sensual experience, like test, performance, speech, and so on. However, test anxiety is not like that, indeed. People who suffer from it can literally forget all they’ve learned during the exam preparation. Strong emotional stress as though erases their memory and makes them want only to escape from the place to avoid such feelings.
Psychologists say it’s normal to feel nervous as we approach the exam because we all understand that we can both pass it or fail. And such emotions usually stimulate us to work harder to be better prepared in order to succeed.
At the same time, such anxiety may get too overwhelming for a person that affects academic performance. And if a person has no idea how to reduce test anxiety, it carries no stimulation to work harder, but the only desire to escape from the situation.

Is Test Anxiety Widespread?

Figures may vary, but according to American Test Anxiety Association, about 16% of student who attends college or high school have high test anxiety, together with that, 18% have medium-high test anxiety.
According to the American College Health Association, 1 out of 5 college students is diagnosed with anxiety. This diagnosis has become even more common than depression among college students.
As known from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in the USA, anxiety disorder is now considered as the most widespread mental illness. Among the most frequent cases (about 40 million people), there are people aged 18 and older. And it constitutes around 18.1% of the population.
Anxiety disorders can be the result of many risk factors. They can be as follows: personality, genetics, life events, brain chemistry, and others.

Reasons and Origin of Test Anxiety

As described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or ADAA, specific factors, one by one or all together, can result in test anxiety. Among them, there are the following: not enough preparation, lack of self-confidence, fear of failure, perfectionism, memories of previous failures in tests, genetics, or generalized anxiety.
According to the viewpoint of Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, who is a professor from Rutgers School of Business, test anxiety may rise from disturbance about performance. It can be the fear of a certain subject, a fear of failure. Sometimes students are worried about larger consequences, such as the possibility of not graduating or just simple inconvenience about a testing format.
Students who experience constant fear about academic performance may create an endless negative chain of events in their minds. Starting from simple anxiety over a single test failure, it grows into fear of non-passing to the next grade, not graduating, not being accepted to a graduate program, disappointing parents, inability to get a job, and finally ending up homeless.
And, although it is not absolutely clear what kinds of people are subject to test anxiety, psychologists say that nature and upbringing play a considerable role in the development of this problem. It means, if in your family someone suffers from excessive anxiety, there’s a high probability that you will be experiencing test anxiety.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety symptoms are divided into emotional, cognitive, and physical. It happens that you can start noticing them weeks or months prior to the test or right before it.
However, typically, during the exam, the most irritating symptoms take place.
First, your heart beats faster, you feel hot or even sweaty, while your hands are cold, you find it hard to think clearly. Then you may feel a shortage of breath, gastrointestinal distress. It is similar to a panic attack in some way.
When the teacher passes out the tests, you might experience the worst period, as you begin to think at this moment that you are going to screw it up. When it’s finished, you feel no relief as you feel anxious about the next test and how you are going to mess it up again and again or simply skip it.
The following symptoms are common for test anxiety:

  • fast heart rate;
  • headache;
  • dry mouth;
  • gastrointestinal issues;
  • shortness of breath;
  • tense muscles;
  • excessive sweating;
  • racing thoughts;
  • feeling lightheaded or faint;
  • blanking out;
  • negative self-talk;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • self-doubt;
  • fear;
  • dread;
  • stress;
  • anger;
  • feelings of inadequacy;
  • hopelessness;
  • panic attack;
  • depression;
  • strong desire to escape;
  • avoidance.

5 Recommendations on How to Reduce Test Anxiety

Actually, there are simple techniques, which can help a student to cope with test anxiety. However, one and the same method may be working for one student and not suitable for another.
We offer you to look through the tips below and try some of them or at least one which seems right for you. Anyway, don’t eliminate the possibility of turning to professional help.

  • Eat right. Avoid junk food and choose healthy food instead. And we don’t mean only your examination day, and you should nourish your body with a healthy meal all the time. On a test day, though, try to eat a nutritious breakfast. Try to do without sweet products and pastries. By the way, coffee may sometimes provoke qualms. If it’s your case, avoid that too;
  • Get a good night’s rest. Make it a habit, not just before the test day. The better your body rests, the easier it will be for you to calm yourself. Your performance depends on it too;
  • Keep active. It’s not a secret to everyone that physical exercises help to clear the mind, as well as reduce stress. Go for a run or walk!
  • Occupy yourself with relaxation techniques. Meditation or yoga may be a good choice to bring down stress. Deep breathing, positive self-talk will also work;
  • Be well prepared. Of course, you know that you have to do it, but don’t underestimate the training – studying the lessons, reviewing rules will help you to remember the material better. Also, good preparation for your test will allow you to feel more confident.

You can do this at home on your own, with a tutor, or attend special study classes. Try to start preparing for your test in advance. It will eliminate panic.

4 FAQ about Test Anxiety: Expert Pieces of Advice

We’ve picked out most burning questions from students about test anxiety together with replies of professional psychologists. If you recognize yourself in these questions, expert replies will help you find the way.

Q-n 1. Does suffering from test anxiety have lasting effects?

Answer: Yes, certainly. Usually, people with performance anxiety are afraid of pursuing their goals and avoid taking leadership positions. Such people have constant self-doubt and, thus, may end up as underachievers if they don’t treat their disease.
Avoiding challenges just because you are afraid that you will not succeed may mislead you to the life you don’t like but are unable to change.

Q-n 2. Is it advisable to share your concerns about test anxiety with mentors?

It is definitely worth doing, as it may help students to feel not alone. Also, some instructors can give you useful tips on how to reduce test anxiety. Otherwise, anxious students miss lessons to avoid emotional stress, which results again in the poor academic performance, which one might avoid by collaborating with the school and student services.

Q-n 3. Does test anxiety more prevail nowadays than before?

Unfortunately, it looks like that. The reason may be the increase in testing in our time in comparison with the previous years. Also, today students often suffer from a lack of friends, which means a lack of support. At the same time, people who have close friends, easier overcome such mental health conditions. They have someone who can comfort that in the case of a failure, so it is not so scary for them not to do their best.

Q-n 4. Is the professional help required?

Psychologists believe that students must ask for professional help when they are good at something but tend to fail it only on tests. It means that they can’t come in full force when tested and being under stress conditions, and basically can’t show what they are capable of. Avoiding help can do a disservice to students – hiding their real potential behind the fear of failure will result in an unsatisfactory life.
Some people think that they are just not smart enough to do well on the test, but it is not like that indeed. Many people suffer from one and the same problem of test anxiety but choose not to talk about it, so no one knows about their problem.
Sharing your problem with an expert is the first step to solve it. Especially, there are so many methods to do it, like study or support groups, which can make a difference in your self-assessment and self-control.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be really helpful, too, in conquering test anxiety. And sometimes, the first results are visible in the short term.

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