Test Anxiety

You went to class, you studied, and you’ve taken many practice tests. You feel confident about yourself, and you just know that you’re going to ace that test.

You just know it.

But then test day comes, and as you sit down in your desk, you start to wonder, “Am I really ready?”

And then it starts. You freeze up, zone out, start feeling nervous, and start sweating. What’s going on?

Test anxiety.

What Is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is more than just being a little nervous before a test; it can often be intense fear or worrying. This is because test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety; there is pressure on you to do well in a situation. Test anxiety can interfere with your performance while you’re taking a test.

Test Anxiety Video

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Causes of Test Anxiety

Anxiety is a reaction to something that is stressful. It can be anything from a meeting or an interview to a school activity or an important test. Any type of anxiety, including test anxiety, affects both your body and mind.

Fear of Failure

Taking an important test can put a lot of pressure on you. You’re pressured to make sure that you do well on the test, which sometimes can be motivating, but you’re also worried that failing the test can hurt your character, or the failing grade will show your true value.

Lack of Preparation

You may feel like you’re properly prepared and that you’ll do well, so you’ll put off studying for the exam until the last minute. Or you may not study at all. Either way, this could cause test anxiety on the day of the exam.

High Pressure

Knowing that you need to achieve a certain score to pass a class or even get a job can cause pressure, which will cause test anxiety.

Poor Test History

Not doing well on a past test can make you anxious during the next test you will need to take. It’s best that you stay focused on the test that you’re taking rather than thinking about how you did not do well on past tests.

Biological Causes of Test Anxiety

When you’re in a stressful situation, your body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This hormone is what prepares your body to deal with stressful situations and is known as a “fight-or-flight” response. This response helps you determine whether you are going to stay and deal with the stress at hand or if you’re going to leave the situation.

When the fight-or-flight response kicks in, you may have difficulty focusing or concentrating on the test. You may even experience sweating, shaky hands, or nausea.

Mental Causes of Test Anxiety

On top of biological causes of test anxiety, there are also mental causes. One factor is high expectations. For example, if a student believes going in that they will do badly on a test, then they will more than likely start to have anxiety before and during the test.

Another mental cause of test anxiety is previously having test anxiety. After you’ve experienced test anxiety, you may start to become fearful about it happening again the next time you take an important test.

15 Tips to Help Test Anxiety

1. Start preparing early.
It’s important that you start preparing early for your test rather than waiting until the last minute and cramming information. Start studying a week or two before the test, and study in smaller blocks each day.

2. Create a study plan.
Having a study plan is important for success on a test. A study plan will allow you to create blocks of time to study each day, as well as lay out exactly what you’re going to study. Create a study plan from the day you start studying and follow through until the day before the test.

3. Learn how to study
While you may feel like you have this down, you can always get more tips on how to effectively study. Your school may offer study skill classes or other resources that can help you learn effective study skills so that you can feel confident and pass that test.

4. Keep a positive attitude.
Keep in mind that your self-worth does not rely on the outcome of a test. Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself that you can do well on the test. Believing in yourself and keeping a positive attitude while you study and take the test can help you go a long way!

5. Read carefully.
This is important with every test, whether you have test anxiety or not. Make sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin the test and read each and every question and answer before choosing an answer. If you don’t read everything carefully, you could miss out on an important detail that can help you choose the correct answer.

6. Make practice tests your best friend.
Practice tests are a great way to make sure that you’re prepared completely for your test. You’ll be able to get a firsthand look at what the exam will be like, including how many questions will be on the exam and what type of questions you can expect. You’ll also get more of an idea as to which areas you may need more work on.

7. Get a good night’s sleep.
The night before the exam, make sure that you get a good night’s sleep; at least a full 8 hours is recommended. Getting good sleep can help improve your memory and concentration as well as make you feel fresh the next day and ready to tackle that test.

8. Start with what you know.
When you sit down for the test, you don’t have to start with the first question. Start with the ones that you know. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out that one question that has you stumped. Skip over it and move on to the next one that you know. If time allows, go back to the questions you skipped and try to answer them.

9. Use flashcards.
Flashcards are another great resource when you’re preparing for a test. They allow you to study the material in smaller chunks rather than a long list of concepts. You’re able to focus on one concept at a time, such as vocabulary words or specific facts that you know you’ll need for the test.

10. On test day, get to the test site early.
One thing that you don’t want to do is rush because you’re running late. Rushing because you’re late to the exam will only cause you to have more anxiety when you take the test. Get to the test site a little early. Take a walk around the building to help relieve any anxiety that you do have. Moving your body can help remove some of that nervous energy and get your blood flowing, making you feel better.

11. Don’t forget to eat and drink.
Your brain and body need fuel to function and work properly. Make sure that you eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water leading up to the test day and on the test day. Try to stay away from sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks such as coffee. Caffeinated drinks can make you wiry and cause more anxiety.

12. Stay focused.
On test day, try to stay focused on the test only. Don’t worry about what you’re doing after the exam or what happened before, and don’t worry about how the other test-takers are doing. Concentrate solely on your test.

13. Dress comfortably.
Dress appropriately, but wear something that makes you comfortable and that allows you to relax. Stay away from clothes that you will need to adjust constantly or that are too tight for you. Be sure to take a light jacket or sweater in case the test room is cold for you.

14. Take a break if needed.
If you feel that your test anxiety is getting to be a little too much, take a quick break. Close your eyes, take ten deep breaths to calm yourself, and get back to concentrating on the exam.

15. Avoid distractions.
Don’t worry about the person next to you or in front of you who may be going through their test twice as fast. Sit somewhere where you can be free of distractions, perhaps in the front of the room if possible, and focus on your test.

By Peter Rench

Peter Rench joined Mometrix in 2009 and serves as Vice President of Product Development, responsible for overseeing all new product development and quality improvements. Mr. Rench, a National Merit Scholar, graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in mathematics from Texas A&M University.



by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: September 5, 2023

Get Actionable Study Tips
Join our newsletter to get the study tips, test-taking strategies, and key insights that high-performing students use.
Get Actionable Study Tips
Join our newsletter to get the study tips, test-taking strategies, and key insights that high-performing students use!