Test Anxiety – Learning Center (2023)

Feeling nervous for exams is a normal feeling among college students. However, extreme feelings of anxiety and stress before and during an exam can have unhealthy results. Anxiety can be problematic when it prevents you from taking or doing your best on an exam, causes you to feel anxious all the time, or becomes extreme.

Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests. Many students experience varying levels of test anxiety for a number of difference reasons. If you’re someone who does, check out these suggestions and resources to reduce your text anxiety and improve your overall testing experience in college.

Symptoms of test anxiety

Test anxiety might look different from student to student, but the following is a list of possible symptoms you might experience:

Physical symptoms: Headache, nausea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and feeling faint. Test anxiety can also cause panic attacks, which are the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which you may feel like you are unable to breathe or like you are having a heart attack.

Emotional symptoms: Feelings of stress, fear, helplessness, and disappointment, negative thoughts (rumination about past poor performances, consequences of failure, feeling inadequate, helpless), mind going blank, and racing thoughts.

Behavioral/cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively, comparing yourself to others, and procrastinating.

Causes of test anxiety

Fear of failure. While the pressure of doing well on an exam can be motivating, it can be detrimental to your self worth if you associate the grade of the test with your value.

Lack of preparation. Waiting until the last minute or not studying at all can leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

Poor test history. Not succeeding on the previous exam can make you anxious for the next exam. It is important to remember to stay in the present moment when taking an exam so you remain focused. Don’t dwell on the past.

High pressure. If you need a certain grade to pass the class, it could increase your test anxiety.

Perfectionism. Perfectionism is having extremely high performance expectations for yourself. Research studies show that students who have high perfectionism and high self-criticism tend to have high test anxiety and do worse on exams. If you struggle with perfectionism, try to let it go. Make sure to take the time to recognize when you have worked hard and allow yourself to make mistakes.

How to reduce test anxiety

Well before the exam

Be prepared. Start studying a few weeks in advance so that you have enough time to prepare for your test. Space your studying out into smaller chunks over time. Use one of the Learning Center’s weekly calendars to make a schedule. You can also use Learning Center coaching appointments to help you create a study schedule and remain accountable.

Study effectively. Check out the Learning Center’s tips for studying effectively to learn about and use effect study strategies that adequately prepare you for exams and help you learn, understand, and remember material.

Engage in self-care. Take care of your overall health by eating well, getting enough restful sleep, incorporating exercise or movement into your day, and participating in relaxing and fun activities that you enjoy.

Create a calming worksheet. This is a paper that you can carry with you all the time and especially before your exam. On this paper you can put motivational quotes, why you are likely to succeed, breathing techniques, pictures of your supporters, and anything else that will keep you motivated without making you anxious. Create this several days in advance, when you are not stressed and anxious, so that you can turn to it if you do become anxious.

Talk to your professor to get an idea of what is on the exam and what to expect. Look at old exams and practice exams from that class. This can help you better understand what to expect and better prepare. It will also reduce some of the fear and anxiety of the unknown.

Immediately before the exam

Get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours) the night before the exam. Your ability to think clearly and to deal with anxiety improve with sleep.

Eat something to help with focus and attention. Bring water to stay hydrated.

Avoid too much caffeine. If you’ve been hitting the caffeine hard to stay awake and study or to stay focused, know that it can also have a negative effect on your nerves.

Gather all of the materials you need in advance, including a pencil, eraser, or calculator, so that you are not rushing around before the exam.

Play calming or familiar music to help you relax.

Arrive to the exam early enough to find a seat that will help, not hinder your focus. (Do you focus best up front? Near a window? Know yourself.)
Bring ear plugs if you get distracted by noise.

Don’t let the exam define you. Remember that your self-worth and intelligence does not depend on your performance on this one exam.

Give yourself a pep talk to reframe your anxiety as excitement. Actually telling yourself you’re excited will help you see the exam more positively and experience more positive emotions.

During the exam

Calm your body.

  • Breathe deeply from your belly.
  • Tighten various muscle groups, and then relax them.
  • Stand and stretch or shrug shoulders.
  • Close your eyes and count to ten.

Sit comfortably.

  • Sitting up, relaxing your shoulders, and being mindful of your posture can help you feel more powerful, confident, and assertive. It makes you less stressed, sluggish, and anxious.
  • Research shows that slouching and hunching poses decrease people’s persistence and creativity when trying to solve complex problems and increase negative self-thoughts.
  • Research shows people have higher self-esteem and think of themselves more positively when they sit upright rather than hunched.

Calm your emotions and thoughts.

  • Focus only on present moment to help you stay grounded.

Example: “I am sitting at a desk in Carroll Hall. It is 2:00 pm on Tuesday.”

  • Avoid thoughts about the future or past.

Example: “I need an A on this test in order to improve my g.p.a.”

Example: “I should have done more practice problems.”

  • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Example: “It’s okay if I can’t answer this question—I can answer another question instead.”

  • Stay focused on the current task, which is to complete the test, not on how you believe it relates to your self-value.
  • Keep realistic expectations. Often times it is not realistic to expect a 100% on an exam. Be okay with doing well, not perfectly.
  • Focus on yourself and what you are doing. Ignore other people around you and don’t compare yourself to others.


Make an appointment with an academic coach at the Learning Center to discuss your test anxiety, study strategies, time management, or any other factor one-on-one.

Attend office hours to talk with your professor about ways to best prepare for the exam.

Visit CAPS. If you believe you need more help with your anxiety, consider visiting CAPS.

Works consulted

Arana, F. and Furlan, L. (2015). Groups of perfectionists, test anxiety, and pre-exam coping in Argentine students. Science Direct. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886915300222

Cuddy, Amy (2015). Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. New York: Little, Brown, & Co.

Downs, C. Managing test anxiety. Brown University. Retrieved from

Eum, K., & Rice, K. G. (2011). Test anxiety, perfectionism, goal orientation, and academic
performance. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(2), 167-178.

Holschuh, J. and Nist, S. (2000). Active learning: Strategies for college success. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

10 ways to overcome test anxiety. The Princeton Review. Retrieved from https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/test-anxiety.

Szafran, R. (1981). Question-pool study guides. Teaching Sociology, 9, 31-43.

Kondo, D. S. (1997). Strategies for coping with test anxiety. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 10, 203-215.

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How do I study for a test with test anxiety? ›

Techniques for Coping with Test Anxiety
  1. Prepare. Know the material well.
  2. Do not over-study. ...
  3. Avoid caffeine before the test. ...
  4. Slow down. ...
  5. Plan on not knowing. ...
  6. Answer the easiest questions first.
  7. Read questions carefully so you understand what they are asking.
  8. Be patient.

Is test taking anxiety real? ›

Test anxiety can be a real problem if you're so stressed out over a test that you can't get past the nervousness to focus on the test questions and do your best work. Feeling ready to meet the challenge, though, can keep test anxiety at a manageable level. Use a little stress to your advantage.

Is test taking anxiety a learning disability? ›

Test anxiety is something for which an accommodation may or may not be given, depending on whether the student's condition is severe enough to constitute a disability under state and federal laws. An evaluation must determine whether one's symptoms are within the normal range or whether they are clinically significant.

How do I get accommodations for test anxiety? ›

Testing Accommodations
  1. Extra time.
  2. Small group or separate testing environments.
  3. Familiar proctors.
  4. Fidget toys or comfort items to hold.
  5. Shorter versions of tests.
  6. Alternate assessments like projects or presentations.

What percentage of students have test anxiety? ›

Test anxiety is a common occurrence in classrooms, affecting the performance of students from kindergarten through college, as well as adults who must take job- related exams. Estimates are that between 40 and 60% of students have significant test anxiety that interferes with their performing up to their capability.

Is test anxiety a part of ADHD? ›

ADHD often causes test anxiety because of the things it does to your brain during a test. If you have ADHD, you might have experienced some of these problems when trying to take an exam: Identifying key information. Organizing thoughts into linear arguments (for essays)

Does test anxiety affect IQ? ›

Outside influences such as low motivation or high anxiety can occasionally lower a person's IQ test score. So, up to approximately 10 IQ points difference in scores can be accounted for by measurement error and performance variability, but stressors can potentially result in larger differences.

Is test anxiety mental or physical? ›

Test anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests. Many students experience varying levels of test anxiety for a number of difference reasons.

Is test anxiety a 504? ›

Answer: Yes. A student may qualify for a 504 plan if anxiety gets in the way of the student participating at school.

What medication is used for test anxiety? ›

While Zoloft is needed on a daily basis to see results, Xanax, like propranolol, is taken on an as-needed basis for performance anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, propranolol works by specifically targeting receptors in your body to block the action of stress hormones that cause the physical effects of anxiety.

Who diagnoses test anxiety? ›

However, you may need to see a mental health specialist if you have severe anxiety. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A psychologist and certain other mental health professionals can diagnose anxiety and provide counseling (psychotherapy).

What are three ways to let go of test anxiety? ›

Dealing with Feelings
  • Breathe. You can calm physical sensations within your body by focusing your attention on your breathing. ...
  • Scan Your Body. Simple awareness is an effective technique to reduce the tension in your body. ...
  • Tense and Relax. ...
  • Use Guided Imagery. ...
  • Describe it. ...
  • Be with it. ...
  • Exercise Aerobically. ...
  • Get help.

Why do people with ADHD need testing accommodations? ›

Because students with ADHD have learning problems that make some types of tests harder for them, modifying the style of testing and the way that tests are graded can help.

What accommodations do teachers with anxiety get? ›

Reasonable accommodations for anxiety can include remote work, a support animal, a rest area, a modified break schedule, a flexible schedule, and shifts in schedule. The type of anxiety you have, your limitations, and your employer's resources will determine what accommodation is appropriate.

How do I overcome extreme test anxiety? ›

Here are some strategies that may help reduce your test anxiety:
  1. Learn how to study efficiently. ...
  2. Study early and in similar places. ...
  3. Establish a consistent pretest routine. ...
  4. Talk to your teacher. ...
  5. Learn relaxation techniques. ...
  6. Don't forget to eat and drink. ...
  7. Get some exercise. ...
  8. Get plenty of sleep.

Why am I so bad at taking tests? ›

Some students perform poorly on tests for reasons other than lack of preparation or poor study skills. This common problem is called test anxiety and it occurs when students are too nervous to recall learned material during an exam.

Can anxiety make it harder for test takers? ›

Test anxiety makes it harder to absorb information while preparing for an exam. Study suggests that test anxiety doesn't simply impair performance during an exam, but rather makes it harder to acquire knowledge in the first place. Many students find taking exams stressful.

Why is test anxiety so common? ›

You may become anxious because you cannot predict the outcome of a test. Even if your locus of control is internal, you may feel temporarily helpless in a testing situation when you know you have not studied enough. Feeling guilty for not meeting your responsibilities may cause you to experience test anxiety.

How can I help my child with severe test anxiety? ›

Calming techniques like using a stress ball or taking deep breaths can also help. If your child has especially bad test anxiety, they may even qualify for accommodations like extra time or taking a break partway through. Finally, encourage kids to remember that it's okay if they don't know the answer.

Why do kids have test anxiety? ›

Children with test anxiety may express a fear of disappointing their parents. Winnett says parents may reinforce that fear. “Often, parents unintentionally pressure their child by constantly saying how smart they are or what a great job they're always doing,” Winnett says. “Children need to fail.

Why do I study hard but still fail? ›

The problem: You procrastinate studying, not leaving yourself enough time to absorb the material before test day. The solution: Create a routine that involves reviewing your notes regularly. Each night, take a few minutes to go over your notes from class.

Can anxiety be disguised as ADHD? ›

It's not uncommon for people with anxiety to be misdiagnosed with ADHD, or vice versa. Take trouble with paying attention, for example. Both anxiety and ADHD can cause people to tune out and get caught up in their emotions — just for different reasons.

Can high functioning anxiety be mistaken for ADHD? ›

Confusing the picture of whether or not it is anxiety or ADHD is the fact that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and inattentive presentation of ADHD clinically show much the same symptoms of inattention, leading to frequent misdiagnosis (e.g., ADHD misdiagnosed as anxiety and vice versa).

What are the disadvantages of test anxiety? ›

In fact, students who struggle with test anxiety typically fall a half a letter grade below their peers. In addition to academic impacts, text anxiety can affect a student's mental health, including lowered self-esteem, confidence, and motivation.

What is hyper intelligence disorder? ›

It posits that individuals with high cognitive ability react with an overexcitable emotional and behavioral response to their environment. Due in part to this increased awareness of their surroundings, people with a high IQ then tend to experience an overexcitable, hyperreactive central nervous system.

Is test anxiety cognitive? ›

Cognitively, test anxiety comes along with specific worry thoughts including negative cognitive self-statements regarding academic failure. Additionally, test anxious individuals might experience social worry thoughts as they fear to be negatively judged by teachers, parents, and others (Lowe et al., 2008).

Is test anxiety a personality trait? ›

Test anxiety is a situation-specific personality trait generally regarded as having two psychological components: worry and emotional arousal. People vary with regard to the disposition to experience these components in academic settings.

What are six physical symptoms of test anxiety? ›

Symptoms of Test Anxiety
  • Sweating.
  • Shaking.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Fainting.
  • Nausea.
Aug 26, 2020

Is an IEP or 504 better for anxiety? ›

If your child needs specially designed instruction, and not just accommodations, request an IEP. If your child has anxiety and/or depression, you certainly want 504 accommodations for anxiety and depression. However, accommodations will accommodate for a lack of skill.

What is the IEP goal for test anxiety? ›

Students who experience anxiety need goals that will get them to a point where they are keeping their anxiety out of the behaviors they exhibit in the classroom. IEP goals in this area should focus on reducing avoidance behaviors, such as absenteeism, and increasing positive coping skills, such as problem-solving.

What are the four categories of test anxiety? ›

Test anxiety consists of:
  • Physiological overarousal – often termed emotionality. ...
  • Worry and dread – maladaptive cognitions. ...
  • Cognitive/Behavioral – poor concentration, "going blank" or "freezing," confusion, and poor organization. ...
  • Emotional – low self-esteem, depression, anger, and a feeling of hopelessness.

What works like Xanax but not addictive? ›

Non-Addictive Anxiety Medications
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro®)
  • Citalopram (Celexa®)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil®)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft®)
May 15, 2022

What are the two types of test anxiety? ›


One type of test anxiety is somatic, which is what you are feeling. 2. The second type of test anxiety is cognitive, which is what you are thinking.

Should I take Ativan before a test? ›

Will lorazepam affect my ability to take exams? Try not to take lorazepam for the first time just before your exams. You may feel forgetful, very sleepy, and find it difficult to concentrate when you start taking lorazepam. You should talk to your doctor about any future exams if you are starting lorazepam.

Is having anxiety a disability? ›

Is anxiety a disability? Yes, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers anxiety as a disability. However, people with anxiety may find it challenging to prove that their condition qualifies them for monthly disability benefits.

Is test anxiety a type of social anxiety? ›

Abstract. Test anxiety is characterized by a fear of negative evaluation, specifically in academic domains. This evaluative fear is often driven by social concerns that are consistent with those that are found in individuals with social phobia.

How I healed my anxiety without drugs? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
Dec 6, 2017

What are the two most common causes of test anxiety? ›

The most common causes of test anxiety are lack of preparation and negative attitudes. The key to combating test anxiety is to try to reduce stressors to a manageable level rather than try to eliminate them totally.

What is the most common test for anxiety? ›

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor performs a physical exam, asks about your symptoms, and recommends a blood test, which helps the doctor determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms. The doctor may also ask about any medications you are taking.

How do you follow the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help center your mind, bringing you back to the present moment, Chansky says.

What are accommodations for test anxiety? ›

Accommodations may include taking the test in a separate room or taking an untimed examination. Documentation supporting a diagnosis of test anxiety should include evidence of significant impairment in test performance.

Do students with ADHD get extra time on tests? ›

Extended testing time was put in place to help students who struggle with standardized exams. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, or suspect you have ADHD, you may qualify for extended testing time and should take a moment to learn how the process works for getting extended testing time.

Why is it so hard to get assessed for ADHD? ›

ADHD can't be diagnosed from simple observation or a quick conversation. Diagnosis in adults can be complex because many adults have learned to hide or mask many of their symptoms over the years. Additionally, other conditions such as learning disabilities or mood disorders will need to be ruled out in some cases.

What is the best school environment for anxiety? ›

Anxious children perform best in a calm, supportive, but organized classroom. Because change and uncertainty can be unsettling, a structured classroom, calmly disciplined will let children feel safe and know what to expect.

Do teachers notice students with anxiety? ›

While in the classroom and at school, teachers are able to observe children in a range of situations that parents and clinicians are not exposed to, so it's not uncommon for teachers to notice signs of anxiety in children that parents are unaware of.

Can I be a teacher if I have a lot of anxiety? ›

Yes, you can be a teacher with social anxiety. Here are tips for teachers to be less nervous when teaching. If you're a teacher experiencing social anxiety in school, there are many ways you can manage your condition and succeed in the profession you love.

Can I take anxiety pills before exam? ›

Using propranolol to treat performance or social anxiety is a simple process. Many people prescribed propranolol off-label take 10mg to 80mg of propranolol approximately one hour before the event that's likely to cause stress, depending on the severity of their anxiety.

How do I get over my fear of exam failure? ›

In summary, fear of failure is a learned behavior that needs to be unlearned. The best way to overcome your fears is to minimize anxiety by preparing well and getting as much information as possible about the exam. The more you know, the more confidence you will have.

What triggers test anxiety? ›

Believing grades are an estimation of your personal worth. Placing too much emphasis on a single test. Giving in to guilt feelings or anxiety as a result of inadequate preparation for tests. Feeling helpless, believing that you have no control over your performance or grades.

What medicine reduces test anxiety? ›

A single dose of propranolol immediately before the SAT permitted improved performance in students prone to cognitive dysfunction due to test anxiety.

How can I beat anxiety naturally? ›

10 natural remedies for anxiety
  1. Stay active. ...
  2. Steer clear of alcohol. ...
  3. Consider quitting smoking cigarettes. ...
  4. Limit caffeine intake. ...
  5. Prioritize getting a good night's rest. ...
  6. Meditate and practice mindfulness. ...
  7. Eat a balanced diet. ...
  8. Practice deep breathing.

What drugs help with test taking? ›

Prescription stimulants used as study drugs include:
  • amphetamines like Adderall, Dexedrine, or Vyvanse.
  • methylphenidates like Ritalin or Concerta.

How do you survive exam stress? ›

Managing exam stress
  1. Keep a routine and take regular breaks. It's important to have regular study breaks and make time for relaxation and exercise. ...
  2. Limit caffeine. ...
  3. Manage expectations. ...
  4. Look after yourself. ...
  5. Ask for and accept support. ...
  6. Options for the future. ...
  7. Leave the stress in the exam hall.

How can I relax and calm before an exam? ›

  1. Hand Massage Can Help You Relax.
  2. Let Out Some Deep Sighs.
  3. Lessen the Weight of Study with Flotation Therapy.
  4. Practice Muscle Relaxation.
  5. Listen to Calming Music.
  6. Exercise to Reduce Anxiety and Settle Nerves.
  7. Pray and/or Meditate to Calm Nerves.
  8. Keep Perspective.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety? ›

Symptoms of test anxiety

Emotional symptoms: Feelings of stress, fear, helplessness, and disappointment, negative thoughts (rumination about past poor performances, consequences of failure, feeling inadequate, helpless), mind going blank, and racing thoughts.


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