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What Is Test Anxiety?

Overview

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. It can affect everyone from kindergarteners to PhD candidates. If you have test anxiety, you may have anxiety and stress even if you are well-prepared for the exam you’re about to take.

A number of different factors can cause test anxiety. These can include:

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

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Symptoms

Symptoms of test anxiety

You can experience physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms if you have test anxiety.

Physical symptoms may include:

  • excessive sweating
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • feeling lightheaded or faint

Emotional symptoms of test anxiety can include feelings of:

  • self-doubt
  • fear
  • stress
  • hopelessness
  • inadequacy
  • anger

You may also feel nervous, restless, or fidgety.

Anxiety can also cause difficulty concentrating. You may feel like your thoughts are jumbled and you’ve forgotten everything that you’ve learned. You can also become more indecisive, and you may struggle to choose between two different answers.

In severe cases of test anxiety, these symptoms may be a precursor to or part of a panic attack.

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Statistics

Test anxiety statistics

Anxiety disorders are common, affecting about 18 percent of adults. But only about a third of people with anxiety seek treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 25 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds. Untreated childhood anxiety can cause children to perform poorly in school and on tests.

According to a 2010 study, text anxiety can affect anywhere between 10 to 40 percent of all students. That percentage has seemed to increase alongside the increase in standardized testing.

One study found that test anxiety is more detrimental to performance for some people than others. Students with good working memories actually achieved higher test results when they had test anxiety. However, students with poor working memory had poor test results associated with test anxiety.

Learn more about generalized anxiety disorder »

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Treatment

Treatment and medication for test anxiety

Some students will experience severe test anxiety. In severe test anxiety, symptoms are more intense and persistent. These students may experience panic attacks. They may continue to have poor test performances despite thorough studying.

Your doctor or your child’s pediatrician can prescribe medications to help control severe anxiety. Medication can also reduce panic attacks.

Your doctor may refer you to a counselor to help with stress management. A counselor can help you learn methods for coping with anxiety. A counselor can also help you cope with any self-doubt or low self-esteem that could be causing the performance anxiety.

If you or your child has severe test anxiety, you may get approval for them to receive special accommodations. Anxiety disorders are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes test anxiety. Once you file the required paperwork, you or your child can take exams in a separate, quiet room, and you may be given additional time to complete the test.

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Tips

Tips for dealing with test anxiety

There are some different techniques you can use to cope with test anxiety, both before the test and during it.

To cope with test anxiety before a test, the best thing you can do is prepare as much as possible. Learn the best study methods that work for you, and spend plenty of time studying before each test. When possible, take practice tests beforehand.

You should try to get plenty of sleep the night before. The morning of, eat a healthy breakfast that has some protein to keep you going.

During the test itself, there are several methods you can use to reduce anxiety:

Tips
  1. Take several slow, deep breaths, and consciously relax your muscles one at a time.
  2. Read each question slowly and more than once. Make sure you completely understand what the question is asking.
  3. Take the test one question at a time. Focus only on that question.
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