2016-2017 Student Handbook

Dealing With Test Anxiety


Most students experience some level of anxiety during an exam. However, when anxiety begins to affect exam performance it has become a problem. Lack of preparation can cause test anxiety as indicated by:

  • cramming the night before the exam
  • poor time management
  • failure to organize text information
  • poor study habits
  • worrying about past performance on exams, how friends and other students are doing, the negative consequence of failure

Physical Signs of Test Anxiety

During an exam, as in any stressful situation, a student may experience any of the following bodily changes:

  • perspiration
  • sweaty palms
  • headache
  • upset stomach
  • rapid heart beat
  • tense muscles

Effects of Test Anxiety

  • nervousness
  • having difficulty reading and understanding the questions on the exam paper
  • having difficulty organizing your thoughts
  • having difficulty retrieving key words and concepts when answering essay questions
  • doing poorly on an exam even though you know the material
  • mental blocking such as going blank on questions or remembering the correct answers as soon as the exam is over

How to Reduce Test Anxiety

  • Study and know the material well enough so that you can recall it even if you are under stress.
  • Learn and practice good time management and avoid laziness, procrastination and day dreaming.
  • Build confidence by studying throughout the semester and avoid cramming the night before the exam.
  • Generate questions from your textbooks and lecture notes.
  • Focus on key words, concepts and examples in your textbooks and lecture notes.
  • Make charts and outlines which organize the information in your notes and textbooks.
  • Use relaxation techniques, for example, taking long deep breaths to relax the body and reduce stress.

The Study Environment

Your study environment can have a big effect on how efficient you study.

  • Check your place of study for noise, interruptions, lighting, temperature, neatness, comfort and equipment
  • Minimize distracting noise. Some people need some sound, and some like silence. Find what works for you.
  • Culprits are family and friends. Consider a "do not disturb sign" and let phone calls go to voice mail. You can catch up with folks later.
  • Have plenty of room to work; don't be cramped. your study time will go better if you take a few minutes at the start to straighten things up.
  • A desk and straight-backed chair is usually best. Don't get too comfortable. A bed is a place to sleep, not study.
  • Have everything (book, pencils, paper, coffee, dictionary, computer, calculator, tape recorder, etc.) close at hand. Don't spend your time jumping up and down to get things.

Preparing for or Anticipating Test Anxiety

  • What is it you have to do? Focus on dealing with it.
  • Just take one step at a time.
  • Think about what you can do about your anxiety.
  • No negative or panicky self-statements; just think rationally.
  • Don't worry; it won't help anything.
  • Don't think about fear; just think about what you have to do.
  • Stay relevant.
  • Relax; you're in control. Take a slow, deep breath.
  • You should expect some anxiety, it's a reminder not to panic and to relax and cope steadily with the situation.
  • Tenseness can be an ally, a friend; it's a cue to cope.

Coping with the Feeling of Being Overwhelmed

  • When the fear comes, just pause.
  • Keep the focus on the present; what is it you have to do?
  • You should expect your fear to rise some.
  • Don't try to eliminate fear totally; just keep it manageable.
  • You can convince yourself to do it. You can reason your fear away.
  • It's not the worst thing that can happen.
  • Do something that will prevent you from thinking about fear.
  • Describe what is around you. That way you won't think about worrying.

Reinforcing Self-statements

  • It worked! You did it!
  • It wasn't as bad as you expected.
  • You made more out of the fear than it was worth.
  • You're getting better. You're learning to cope more smoothly.
  • You can be pleased with your progress.
  • You like how you handled it. You can be proud of it.

List of Self-Verbalizations

The lists below contain some common thoughts and worries which many test-anxious people have. Check those that you can identify with most. Then study your list and see if you can change any of your worrying thoughts. Ask yourself, "How rational is each thought? How much evidence do you have for such a belief?"

A. Worry About Performance

__I should have studied more. I'll never get through.

__I just want to finish and get out of here and hope for the best.

__I don't know anything. What's the matter with me?

__My mind is a blank. I'll never get the answer. I must really be stupid.

__I can't figure out what the professor wants. No way I'll do well on this test.

__I can't remember a thing. This always happens to me. I never do well on anything.

__Only 10 minutes left. There are so many questions. I'll never get through everything.

__I just can't think. Why did I ever take this course?

__It's no use. I might as well give up.

__I knew this stuff yesterday. What's wrong with me?

__My mind is a blank...I'm just not cut out for this.

__I have to get an A. Smart people always get A's.

__This stuff is easy. I should get everything right.

__This is terrible, absolutely the worst test I've ever had.

__I'm just a no good, terrible, worthless person.

B. Worry About Bodily Reactions

__I'm sick. I'll never get through.

__I'm sweating all over. It's really hot in here.

__My hands are shaking again. I can't even hold the lousy pen.

__My stomach is going crazy; churning and jumping.

__Here it comes. I'm getting really tense again. Normal people just don't get like this.

C. Worry About How Others are Doing

__I know everyone's doing better than I am.

__I must be the dumbest one in the class.

__I'm going to be the last one done again. I must really be stupid.

__No one else seems to be having trouble. Am I the only one?

D. Worry About Possible Negative Consequences

If I fail this test, I'll:

__Flunk the course.

__Be kicked out of school.

__Never get into graduate school.

__Have to get A's on the midterm and final.

__Have to go to summer school.

__Never get a good grade.

__Never graduate on time.

__Never get the kind of job I want.

__Disappoint my family (or friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher, etc.). I'll never be able to face them again.

__Everyone will think I'm stupid. I'll really be embarrassed.