Test Anxiety

Tests are a normal, though often dreaded, part of the college experience. It is common to feel stressed or anxious when preparing for or taking a test. These feelings are normal, and at mild-to-moderate levels, can even improve performance. Most students get nervous during testing, but some students experience test anxiety at a level that is physically distressing and interferes with performance. Test anxiety symptoms can range from minor annoyances, such as forgetting a common formula, to overwhelming and debilitating fears. If you experience some of the following symptoms in the context of test-taking, you might be struggling with test anxiety.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety


  • Overwhelming fear or panic
  • Nervous worrying
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Pervasive negativism
  • Feelings of impending doom

Physical Experiences:

  • Increased sweating
  • Pounding heart
  • Headaches
  • Shakiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tightness
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue


  • I’m so stupid
  • I’m going to fail
  • This is hopeless
  • Why should I even try?
  • I just can’t do (this subject)
  • I have to get out of here

Cognitive/Behavior Patterns:

  • The mind goes blank or freezes up
  • Distractibility; poor concentration
  • Increased errors
  • Racing thoughts
  • Overthinking concepts and questions
  • Checking/second-guessing/changing answers

What to do if you think you have test anxiety

The sources of test anxiety are poor test preparation, ineffective test-taking strategies, psychological pressures, and poor health habits. Explore the extent to which each of these components applies to you and attempt to make the following changes.

Focus on test preparation:

  • Clarify the format and content of each test with your instructors.
  • Know what your instructor expects. Ask questions!
  • Create a study guide, a detailed list of what topics the test will cover. Collaborate with other students and/or your instructor if possible.
  • Review past homework assignments, quizzes, and sample problems in the text.
  • Don’t cram. Organize time to study the test topics thoroughly.
  • Create your own practice test.

Use effective test-taking strategies:

  • Learn basic test-taking strategies to use in various test formats (e.g., multiple-choice vs. essay tests).
  • Read the directions thoroughly
  • Do a “mind dump” when you first receive the test: Write down any formulas or facts you are afraid you might forget.
  • Take one question at a time; don’t focus on the entire test all at once.
  • Don’t dwell on questions you can’t immediately answer. Mark them, skip them and return to them later.
  • Pace yourself according to any time limits. Don’t rush.
  • Avoid observing others’ test-taking behavior. Don’t engage in self-comparison.

Relieve psychological pressures:

  • Arrive at the exam on time or slightly early. Take some time to relax or meditate before you begin.
  • Don’t discuss the exam with peers prior to taking it. You might end up questioning yourself or “catching” your pre-exam anxieties.
  • Identify and dispute negative, self-defeating statements such as “I can’t do it.” Replace them with positive, affirming self-statements such as “I’m ready for this test” or “I’ll do my very best.”
  • Use a thought-stopping technique to manage distracting thoughts.
  • Keep your goal for the test reasonable. Don’t let the test define your personal worth.

Practice healthy behaviors:

  • Get plenty of sleep during the nights preceding your exam
  • Eat a healthy meal before your exam
  • Practice deep breathing and other relaxation and meditation techniques regularly so you can access these skills at exam time.
  • Avoid excessive use of caffeine, including energy drinks or similar products.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Be sure to take mental breaks and have some fun! This will actually improve your academic performance.

Test Anxiety Audio Files

“Tame Test Anxiety” is an accelerated conditioning program developed by Dr. Richard Driscoll to assist students struggling with test anxiety. Research has found that the use of this program can result in improvements of half a letter grade. The program consists of two 31-minute sessions. The best benefits come from review and repeated practice of the visualization exercises. The audio files guide you through progressive stages of muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and visualization exercises. The visualization exercises utilize successful learning experiences from your past to help you in your current academic preparation. Initially, you’ll want to complete the entire program (audio files 1-12). In subsequent practice periods, you can skip the introduction and review audio files 3-12.

We thank Dr. Driscoll for allowing Weber State University to be the first university in the United States to post this valuable program.


  1. Introduction
  2. Relaxation Exercise
  3. Brief Review and Booster
  4. Creating Sense of Interest
  5. Visualizing Sense of Interest
  6. Visualizing Curious and Engagement
  7. Visualizing Study Sessions
  8. Visualizing Day Before Test
  9. Visualizing Moment Before Taking the Test
  10. Visualizing Test Taking
  11. Visualizing Solving Hard Problems
  12. Visualizing Emotions after the Test
  13. Final Stretch



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