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Overcoming Test Anxiety

Most of us experience some level of anxiety when anticipating something stressful, such as taking tests, pitching a ball, or performing on stage. This tension is normal and positive; it motivates us to want to perform at our best level.

Test anxiety becomes problematic when this nervousness is so high that it interferes with test preparation and performance. There are steps students can take to reduce anxiety to a manageable level.

What forms does test anxiety take?

discouraged male student

One form of test anxiety results from such things as poor study habits, inadequate organizational skills, ineffective time management. When not prepared, it is rational that the student is then faced with increased tension. This, however, is not true test anxiety.

True test anxiety results when a student is adequately prepared for an exam but experiences symptoms of physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional distress that inhibit to some degree the ability to learn and perform.

Both forms of test anxiety can be overcome.


What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

Symptoms of test anxiety vary both in nature and degree: some students are mildly affected and exhibit few symptoms; others experience severe, incapacitating reactions.

To ascertain where you might be in the spectrum, keep track of the symptoms you experience and their degree of severity.

One starting point to this self-awareness is to take the following test anxiety surveys.

Photo of a woman with a shocked expression on her face. There is a double image intimating movement.

Test Anxiety Here you will find symptoms of and ways of reducing test anxiety. (West Virginia University at Parkersburg)

Test Anxiety Questionnaire (Muskingum College)

Questions to Consider

Answers to the following questions from the University of Texas at Austin can be used to get an idea of symptoms you may experience:

  • Are you aware of being really nervous on a test, maybe so nervous that you don't do your best and you lose points even though you've studied well and are prepared?

  • Does your stomach ever get tight or upset before or during a test? Hands cold and sweaty? Headaches? Rapid heart beat? Muscles tense?

  • Do you have trouble sleeping the night before a test?

  • Do you ever find your mind racing or dull or "muddy" so that you can't think clearly while taking a test? Trouble organizing your thoughts? Reading and understanding questions? Following directions?

  • During a test do you ever forget material you studied and learned maybe only to remember it again later after the test is over?

  • Do you "overanalyze" questions, see too many possibilities, choose the complex answer and overlook, and miss, the simpler correct one?

  • Do you make many careless errors on a test?

  • Do you find you are emotionally upset: crying easily, feeling irritable, getting frustrated quickly?

If you answer "yes" to any one of these questions, you may be experiencing test anxiety.

If the anxiety you feel is unmanageable and consistent, you are encouraged to contact your counselor or physician about support services and treatment.


How can test anxiety be controlled?

2 women happy about test results


When preparing for a test, research indicates that when students have tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits they can overcome test anxiety and the associated symptoms. As a result, they improve their ability to prepare for and perform on exams.

The web sites listed below vary in the approaches used to manage the symptoms of test anxiety. Find suggestions that make sense to you and fit how you learn. It's important to feel comfortable with the strategies so you will use them, which is the key to succeeding.

The most frequently mentioned strategies address the following areas:

  • Relaxation
  • Knowledge of testing conditions
  • Adequate preparation through improvement of test-taking and study skills
  • Effective health habits, exercise, and good nutrition
  • Monitoring of thinking patterns and positive self-talk


Test Anxiety: What to Do about It

Test Anxiety: Symptoms; Is Test Anxiety Bad?; Dealing with Thoughts; Dealing with Physical Tension; Do's and Don'ts This site covers all aspects of test taking. Test Anxiety is on the right of the screen. (Pennsylvania State University)

Test Anxiety Relaxation techniques (West Virginia University at Parkersburg)

Managing Test Anxiety Some common anxiety-provoking thoughts; a 4-step model for reducing test anxiety (North Dakota State University)

Coping with Test Anxiety/Test Preparation Good also for general stress reduction (Galladet University)

The 3-Breath Method of Relaxation Simple, easy and it works! (Galladet University)

How to Keep Calm During Tests 9 key points—Scroll down to the section on "Anxiety and Stress Management." Also check out the other excellent handouts available here, especially "Top ten Pointers for Final Exams." (University of Texas—Austin)

Comprehensive Overview of Test Anxiety (Guide to Online Schools)

The Science of Success: Be Careful What You Plan For—The best plans for when you're freaking out. (Psychology Today)

Panic: The Enemy of Effective Test-Preparedness Common-sense suggestions to offset test anxiety (Test Preparation and Online Education)

How to Study: Test Anxiety Sites Here is an excellent site with lots of handouts on test anxiety. Pick the ones that meet your needs. (



computer and notebook

Additional Web Resources on Test Anxiety


Help for Tweens and Teens in Overcoming Test Anxiety

Helping Children Overcome Test Anxiety
Research has shown that providing students with tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits when preparing for a test can help them overcome test anxiety and the associated symptoms, while improving their ability to prepare for and perform on critical testing. (American School Counselor Association)

Test Anxiety
You've participated in class, done all of your homework, studied hard, and you think you have a grip on the material. But then the day of the test comes. Suddenly, you blank out, freeze up, zone out, or feel so nervous that you can't get it together to respond to those questions you knew the answers to just last night. Spanish translation available (Nemours Foundation)


Related ASC Links
Test Preparation and Test-Taking: Online Tests


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This site was created and is maintained by Barbara J. Speidel, SWC Academic Success Center Coordinator. @ Barbara J. Speidel

The ASC logo was created by Andrew C. Rempt. @ Andrew C. Rempt
Southwestern College