Test anxiety may be more common than you think. According to a 2010 study, test anxiety affects between 10-40% of all students. In fact, these percentages continue to rise as students are exposed to more standardized tests throughout their schooling.
“Studies have shown that students with low levels of test anxiety get higher scores on multiple choice tests than those with high anxiety levels,” says Jo-Ann Reteguiz, MD.
Lower test scores among anxious students is no surprise. Thinking logically and focusing are next to impossible when faced with intrusive thoughts and a racing heart. And if a panic attack comes around, say goodbye to cohesive thoughts.
Students should realize, though, that their feelings are valid, and they shouldn’t attribute their anxiety to incompetence. It gets better, and real solutions exist to reduce test stress.
What is test anxiety?
Test anxiety is considered a form of performance anxiety, which is a state of extreme worry or nervousness in which you’re expected to perform some task or job.
Symptoms of test anxiety can vary, but these are common:
- rapid heartbeat
- dry mouth
- shortness of breath
- racing thoughts
- trouble concentrating
If you’ve had any of these symptoms at test time, then you’ve probably experienced anxiety.
What causes test anxiety?
It depends on the student, but most attribute test anxiety to uncertainty. Many students, for example, sit down to take the ACT or SAT, and they begin to feel fidgety. Their hands become balmy, and their breath becomes shallow. Why do they feel this way? They’re uncertain about how they’ll perform. They don’t know what to expect, and they don’t know how they’ll score.
Not all students can fit into that category, though. Some blame their anxiety on past experiences, while others may have a genetic predisposition to it.
How do you manage test anxiety?
Because uncertainty is behind most students’ anxiety, fixing the problem is all about preparation and stress management.
Allow yourself plenty of prep time
Make sure you spend 2-3 months in advance studying. Cramming doesn’t work–don’t do it. Taking practice tests under timed conditions is also a good idea.
Create a study schedule
Consistency is key. You should plan to put aside a set time and location to study each day. Don’t overload yourself, though. Take breaks when you need them.
Keep a folder or binder containing all of your study materials. Organization is key to reducing stress and saving time and energy down the road. You’ll thank yourself later.
“The good news is you can defeat your test anxiety and it begins with changing your mindset,” says Raychelle Lohmann, Ph.D.
Many people believe that if you can change your thoughts, you can change your feelings and behaviors. So keep it positive–use self-talk to stay optimistic and maintain your energy.
If you have severe test anxiety, please seek help from a mental health professional. Anxiety is highly treatable, and expert help can make all the difference in improving your health.