Most people experience some stress or anxiety prior to or during taking any examination. This stress can be considered a prerequisite for performing well in any given test. However, when this kind of anxiety becomes excessive and severe enough to interfere with your performance on a test, at the same time it hinders your ability to function well during the time you prepare for any test, then it is a condition called test anxiety. 

If you pay attention during every class, take good notes and revisit them periodically, spend a good amount of time studying and do everything a good student does and yet you blank out due to nervousness during an examination, you may have this condition. 

This problem affects students of all ages, ranging from kindergarten children to  PhD students and competitive examination candidates.

Test Anxiety Definition

Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which a student experiences a set of physiological, somatic, and cognitive symptoms including over-arousal, worry, tension, dread, fear of failure, catastrophizing etc. during or before taking a test. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, and thus it affects the performance of a student in the test(s). 

Test Anxiety Symptoms

Symptoms of test anxiety vary from mild to severe. Those who experience mild symptoms do fairly good on exams and the ones suffering from severe symptoms experience paralyzing anxiety reactions in a test setting, thus they perform poorly in exams. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the symptoms of testing anxiety can be categorized into four broad categories i.e physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioural symptoms. 

Physical symptoms include sweating, visibly shaking or trembling, rapid heartbeat, fainting, dry mouth and nausea which can also lead to vomiting. In severe cases, the person may even fall ill. The persons who experience mild symptoms may experience a sensation of “butterflies in the stomach.”

Emotional symptoms include depressive mood, low self-esteem and lack of self confidence, a feeling of hopelessness, anger, and a feeling of helplessness that makes students feel as though they are not in control of their situation and can’t do too much about it. Feelings of inadequacy, stress, fear and self doubt are also some of the emotional symptoms of testing anxiety. Often, students overly criticize themselves and berate themselves for not performing well in exams. 

Cognitive and behavioral symptoms include avoidance based approach to the situation. So some students may try to avoid exams altogether and may even drop out of school to avoid their fear, others may develop behavioural problems like fidgeting, nail-biting, hair pulling around the time when exams are conducted. Often, students resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as abusing or taking excessive amounts of prescription medicines and alcoholism. Negative self-talk, catastrophizing, black and white thinking, having trouble concentrating, racing thoughts and blanking out on answers are some of the major cognitive symptoms of testing anxiety. 

Causes of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can be caused by a number of factors, at the same time some factors contribute to the likelihood of someone developing this condition. The causes and risk factors, overall, can be a combination of or a single one of the following pointers: 

  • Poor Testing History: Doing poorly on tests before due to several reasons such as unpreparedness, anxiety, etc., can make you form negative associations with tests and results. This can be a cause of test anxiety. 
  • Fear of Failure: Connecting one’s self image and self worth to test results and how we perform in tests can be a harmful thing to do, and it contributes to test anxiety. 
  • Unpreparedness can add to your feelings of anxiety
  • Overly high expectations from the self can also lead to test anxiety
  • Having Generalized Anxiety Disorder can make you prone to developing test anxiety

Test Anxiety Diagnosis

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) lays out the criteria for the diagnosis of test anxiety under the classification of social phobia. In order to be diagnosed as suffering from social phobia, the following factors should be presented by the concerned individual: 

  • Immediate anxiety response when exposed to the feared situation (in this case, the exam)
  • Multiple attempts to avoid the feared situation or enduring it with extreme difficulty and distress
  • Disruption to normal functioning due to the avoidance or fear associated with the situation
  • Experience of symptoms for at least 6 months

Test Anxiety Treatment

The treatment for test anxiety involves reducing the severe and persistent symptoms which can also include having panic attacks. Panic attacks and anxiety related symptoms can be reduced using the medications prescribed to you or your child by a pediatrician or a doctor. If your symptoms persist, and depending upon your existing condition, your doctor may refer you to a counsellor or a therapist. Counsellors and therapists may use several approaches to reduce the symptoms of test anxiety and form positive associations with examinations. 

At Incontact, we use an eclectic approach to deal with all sorts of mental health issues. For the purpose of treating test anxiety, we may use cognitive behavioural therapy or other related therapeutic approaches. We’ll help you cope with low self esteem and self doubt, if any, that could be causing such a reaction in you during and before examinations. Contact us to know more about our services and book an appointment.

Test Anxiety Tips to Cope

Before the test: To cope with anxiety before a test, you must ensure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep, spend enough time studying so you feel as prepared as possible, learn the right studying methods and take practice tests beforehand. During such practice tests, try to simulate the environmental settings that are present in your examination hall or room so that you expose yourself to such factors and overcome your anxiety. Get plenty of sleep the night before and eat a good breakfast which has an ample amount of protein in it, and avoid caffeine as it acts as a stimulant and may increase your stress levels. 
During the test: Take a few deep breaths and relax your muscles. Bring your focus to the present and attempt each question after reading it more than once, at least. Take one question at a time and focus only on this question for the time being.

Frequently Asked Questions about Test Anxiety

Q. How many students experience test anxiety? Who is at risk?

Studies suggest that 25 to 40 percent of students worldwide experience test anxiety. Students with disabilities, including learning disabilities and those in gifted education classes are at the highest risk of experiencing test anxiety.

Q. What are the measurement scales designed to assess the levels of test anxiety?

Some of the measurement scales designed for this purpose are: The Children’s Test Anxiety Questionnaire which measures the test anxiety levels in children 8-12 years of age, and the Test Anxiety Inventory for Children and Adolescent (TAICA) which is a way to measure and assess test anxiety in children and adolescents in grades 4 to 12.

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