What is Test Anxiety?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Lots of people get nervous before a test, lots of people worry about doing well or passing the test. This is normal. But for some, the high level of anxiety they feel before a test can interfere with their ability to study, prepare and take the test. Just like other types of anxiety disorders, test anxiety can cause both emotional and physical symptoms.

Psychological Symptoms of Test anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Mentally blanking-out despite knowing and studying the material

  • Negative thoughts such as focusing on past test performance, what is going to happen if you do not do well on the test and measuring yourself against others taking the test

  • Racing thoughts

Physical Symptoms of Test anxiety

Like other types of anxiety, each person can experience test anxiety differently. Some may feel paralyzed with fear, others may feel nauseous or begin sweating or shaking. Some may have mild symptoms, others may have severe symptoms.

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. You are so focused on the outcome, you can feel paralyzed, no matter how prepared you are for the exam. When you are stressed, your body releases adrenaline to help you cope with your situation. This is referred to as the fight or flight response and you become hypersensitive to your environment, seeing everything as dangerous.

When your body is in this state, you can focus on the danger, but you can't focus on other situations. For example, you can think about failing the test but you have trouble focusing on the material for the test, you then "blank out" and forget everything you studied.

Perfectionists may experience test anxiety. Perfectionists often worry about making mistakes or believe that anything less than a perfect score is unacceptable and a sign of failure. The pressure they place on themselves can add to the anxiety and then, when their fears come true, they worry about the next test even more. You may also experience test anxiety if you haven't studied and are not prepared for the test. You might also worry if the material is too difficult or you don't understand what has been taught.

Some ways to help reduce test anxiety:

Try to determine what causes your test anxiety.

Do you worry about everything? Are you a perfectionist who puts too much pressure on succeeding in everything? Once you have an idea of where your test anxiety comes from, you can work on eliminating those pressures and stresses in your life.

Take time to make sure you are prepared for the test.

Pay attention in class and ask questions when you don't understand the material. Take time each night to go over your notes. Study for several nights before a test rather than trying to cram all your studying into one night.

Take care of yourself.

Get a good night's sleep. Eat a good breakfast on the day of the test. Taking care of yourself physically helps to reduce anxiety.

Try to change negative thought patterns.

Write down positive statements, such as "I have studied and am prepared for this test." Try to catch yourself when you begin to doubt yourself and read your statement over several times to replace the negative thoughts.

Accept that not being perfect is okay.

You are probably good at many things in your life. Accept that it is okay to not be the best or be perfect in everything you do.


"Reducing Test Anxiety," 2008, Staff Writer, Educational Testing Services

"Test Anxiety," Reviewed 2010, July, Reviewed by D'Arcy Lyness, Ph.D., KidsHealth.org

"What Causes Test Anxiety?" Date Unknown, The University of Alabama: Center for Teaching and Learning

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.