Thought Activity: Testing Your Test Anxiety
Consider the following statements as if they were True/False Questions. There are no wrong answers.
T F I have a hard time starting to study for a exam.
T F When studying for an exam, I feel desperate or lost.
T F When studying for an exam, I often feel bored and tired.
T F I don’t sleep well the night before an exam.
T F 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.)
T F When taking an exam, I am often confused or suffer mental blocks.
T F When taking an exam, I feel panicky and my palms get sweaty.
T F I’m usually in a bad mood after taking an exam.
T F I usually score lower on exams than on papers, assignments, and projects.
T F After an exam, I can remember things I couldn’t recall during the exam.
If you answered true to any of the statements in the table above, you have suffered some of the symptoms of test anxiety. Most of us 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 is a psychological condition in which a person feels distress before, during, or after a test or exam to the point where stress causes poor 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.
If test anxiety becomes a serious problem, you may want to reach out to your academic advisor to see what resources are available to help. Remember, creating a plan will help integrate studying into your daily routine, which will reduce your stress.
There are steps you should take if you find that stress is getting in your way:
- A primary cause of test anxiety is not knowing the material. If you take good class and reading notes and review them regularly, this stressor should be greatly reduced if not eliminated. You should be confident going into your exam (but not overconfident).
Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep
- Hunger, poor eating habits, energy drinks, and lack of sleep all contribute to test anxiety.
Flip the Script on 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. Once your mind is clear, repeat a reasonable affirmation to yourself — “I know this stuff” — before continuing your work.
Focus on Your Own Success!
- 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.
Apply Active Stress Reduction Techniques
- 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. 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 reenergize your mind.
“16 Tests” from A Guide for Successful Students by Irene Stewart and Aaron Maisonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
A psychological condition in which a person feels distress before, during, or after a test or exam to the point where stress causes poor performance.