While many people get stressed about exams or tests, some have a more severe version of this stress known as test anxiety. It might seem silly to someone who doesn’t have or understand test anxiety, but for someone with test anxiety, it can feel really overwhelming. If you think you or someone you know might have test anxiety, then this article might be the right place for you.
We are not mental health experts and are not claiming to give medical advice with this article. If you feel that you or someone you know is suffering from test anxiety or any other form of anxiety, please reach out to a medical professional and get the support that you need.
What is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety, or test anxiety disorder, is a form of performance anxiety, which is a subcategory of anxiety. In general, anxiety disorders are when something that logically shouldn’t really be giving you massive amounts of stress is, and logic won’t help you reduce that stress. Test anxiety is no different.
Someone who suffers from test anxiety may feel totally prepared for the test but is still unable to think clearly during the test and is unable to perform well on the test. Overall, they may know the material really well but can’t reiterate the information in a test format.
While test anxiety can manifest as solely a mental anxiety, it can also cause physical symptoms such as an elevated heart rate, nauseous, and even fainting. Every person experiences test anxiety differently, so there is no cut-and-dry answer for what test anxiety will look like in any given person.
What Causes Test Anxiety?
There are a lot of different things that can cause test anxiety, but, in most cases, it is likely a combination of a variety of factors causing it. Generally, people associate test anxiety with a fear of failure, and fear of failure is a very common cause of test anxiety. This can also result from test anxiety, though, since a student who has performed poorly in the past may begin to believe that they are incapable of performing well.
This fear of failure and the continual loop of thinking that you will fail often leads students to feel that preparing for an exam will do little to help them. This can lead to students being unprepared going into the test and not feeling like it matters much. This is one of the biggest hurdles that many students have to overcome when working through their testing anxiety.
Like any other form of anxiety, test anxiety can be caused by a biological cause. There isn’t a great, straight-forward answer to what happens biologically to cause various anxiety forms. Still, there is often a biological deficiency that causes the brain to react the way it does. Depending on how severe this is, it sometimes needs medication to restore balance to the chemicals in your brain.
Test anxiety can be caused by an imbalance that has been present since birth and is something that a student has to deal with their whole life, but it can also start to appear more as the student grows up. While test anxiety rates in elementary school students are relatively low, the rates tend to increase through middle school, high school, and college.
How Many Students Have Test Anxiety?
Unfortunately, it is hard to get an accurate count of how many students have test anxiety because of how sporadically diagnosed most anxiety disorders are. Test anxiety is no exception, and it is believed that most anxiety disorders are vastly underdiagnosed, and that number is on the rise.
According to the American Test Anxiety Association, about 20% of students suffer from high test anxiety, and while almost 20% suffer from moderate test anxiety. This means that including students with low test anxiety, over half of all students may suffer from some form of test anxiety. This might seem high, but with anxiety rates on the rise nationally, it is not unexpected.
What are the Common Emotional Effects of Test Anxiety?
While test anxiety can manifest itself in physical symptoms, it can also cause various emotional symptoms that can sometimes be harder to treat. Test anxiety can cause students to feel a sense of failure or worthlessness that can increase their feelings of stress, either from tests or otherwise.
Students suffering from test anxiety may act irrationally near large tests. For some students, this can look like they are indifferent to the test and simply don’t care, but in many cases, this is a front that the student has built to protect themselves.
How Do You Know If You Have Test Anxiety: 5 Signs to Look For
While test anxiety can look different in every person, there are some common things that you can look for. Remember, just because you have these symptoms and signs doesn’t necessarily mean that you have test anxiety. There could be other things going on causing any one of these symptoms, so don’t try to self-diagnose. Make sure you seek out the advice of a medical professional and don’t self-diagnose.
Elevated heart rate
An elevated heart rate can be a sign of stress and can be associated with test anxiety. There are various other things that could also cause your heart rate to be elevated, so it is just one thing to watch.
Many people with test anxiety tend to feel fidgety or have trouble sitting still. Since people all fidget differently, this may look different between different people, but it could include fidgeting with an object or their fingers, or it could be a fidgety mind, that is to say, that their mind is all over the place. A scattered mind is harder for an onlooker to see, but if you have a scattered mind, you are likely to know.
Test anxiety can cause some people to feel nauseous and even to throw up for no apparent reason. We all know that lots of things can make people throw up, but this is an option if there isn’t any obvious catalyst that could have caused someone to throw up.
Some people get lightheaded or even faint from severe test anxiety. Fainting or being lightheaded is not something to take lightly, so make sure you treat this with the seriousness it deserves if it does happen to you or a student.
When people get stressed or anxious, they tend to sweat more. Some people are better at hiding this than others, but it can be a good indicator of someone’s stress levels. Obviously, other factors can make someone sweat, so this shouldn’t be taken as the only sign you need at all.
While these are some of the most common test anxiety signs, they are not the only potential signs. If you are experiencing these signs and think you might have test anxiety, please reach out to a parent, teacher, or medical professional for help. Even if you don’t have any of these signs and think that you have test anxiety, please reach out and ask for help and support.
How Do You Treat Test Anxiety?
There are various ways to treat test anxiety and what you choose to do depends on the circumstances. There are a variety of physical changes to a classroom environment that can help students, but there are also ways to help a student prepare for the test. On top of those options, some medications can be used, but, again, it all depends on the situation.
The best test anxiety tips for elementary or middle school students is to talk to their teacher and their family. Due to the age of the students, both their teacher and their parents will be crucial to their treatment. Elementary school is a great time to develop a good study schedule and help the student develop good study habits so they will feel empowered to take on the exams.
If you need help with creating a study schedule or study guide, feel free to check out our articles on these topics.
We also have an article on reducing test anxiety in middle schoolers that might help manage test anxiety if you have a younger student.
The best test anxiety tips for high school students are much more situationally dependent than those of a younger student. High school students are under immense amounts of stress from themselves, their families, and society. These high-stress levels can lead to students developing test anxiety, even if they didn’t seem to have it before. Helping your high school students learn to manage stress in a healthy way is a great resource to add to their toolbelt.
We also have an article on reducing test anxiety in high schoolers that might be useful. It can offer some tips and tricks to help your high schooler manage their test anxiety.
Another great option for helping to treat or manage test anxiety is to practice breathing exercises. Since test anxiety can often prevent students from focusing on the test at hand, it can sometimes be helpful to incorporate relaxation exercises to help refocus the student to perform better on the test. Using breathing exercise for relaxation and focus takes practice, though, and won’t fix any problems overnight.
The last major way to help treat test anxiety is to talk to a professional about starting on medication. There are a variety of options available to help treat all kinds of anxieties, but working with a professional is the only way to find out if medication is right for you or your student and which medication is the best option. This does tend to be a more costly option but is sometimes needed.
7 Ways to Reduce Test Anxiety
Here are some great options for helping to reduce test anxiety in yourself or your student. Since each person is unique, it is important to have a large range of tools to use to help treat test anxiety as each person is likely to respond differently.
These are by no means the only ways out there to help you or your student reduce test anxiety, so don’t feel discouraged if none of these work for you. It can be easy to give up, but there are a seemingly endless amount of ways to reduce test anxiety, so if you keep working at it, something will work.
Develop good study habits early
Helping students develop good study habits at a young age can give them the best tools to help them manage any minor test anxiety they might develop as they grow up. Having good study practices and being able to prepare for a test well is one of the most influential ways to reduce test anxiety, especially in kids.
Make a study schedule and stick to it.
Making a study schedule is a great way to help your student feel prepared going into a test. It can also give students a sense of routine and normalcy, which can be really good for a generally anxious student.
Work with your teachers.
Regardless of if you are in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, your teachers or professors want you to succeed. Working with them to create a positive testing environment is a great option for someone suffering from test anxiety.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It can seem scary, but getting used to asking for help can actually go a long way in helping students feel less alone. Sometimes giving students the resources and empowering them to use the resources can do more than you think it will.
Encourage a culture of growth moments, not failure.
Minimizing the use of the word failure and other similar words can be a good option if you find that your student suffers from test anxiety primarily because of a fear of failure. Trying to minimize that fear of failure by not putting any focus on passing or failing works for some students, but not for others, so just figure out what works for your student.
Incorporate breathing relaxation exercises
Using breathing relaxation exercises during a test can be a great way for a student to focus during the test. It can help clear the student’s mind and give them the best possible chance to perform well on the test. Breathing exercises can also help ground a student and can sometimes even help mitigate many of the physical symptoms of test anxiety.
Seek out professional medical advice and possibly medication
If you feel like you need to, please reach out to a professional for medical advice. Some medications can be used to treat all anxieties, including test anxiety, but medication isn’t the best option for everyone. Talking with a medical professional is the best way to treat any mental health disorder.
Wrapping Things Up: Test Anxiety Symptoms
Although test anxiety is super common, it is often challenging to diagnose and treat because of how many different ways it can manifest itself and how many different treatments there are. Making sure that whatever treatment you choose works for you is the most important thing with any anxiety, as no two people are the same.
If you do suffer from test anxiety, the good news is that so many other people do, too, and there are options available to help you manage your test anxiety. It may seem like a big challenge, to begin with, but with so many options out there, something will work for you. You just have to be willing to put in the work to find it.