Facing Test Anxiety

Facing Test Anxiety

All across the country, students are either in the midst of standardized tests, or they’re prepping for finals. And let’s be honest: everyone hates testing. Sure, it has its purposes, but no one really wants to sit there for hours on end, staring at a scantron and a book full of questions that make your brain hurt. Even if you’re an expert in the field you’re in, testing can be a real pain.

Many people, however, find testing more than a pain. They find it causes them great anxiety. So many people experience this anxiety, actually, that there’s a name for it: Testing Anxiety.

What is Test Anxiety?

KidsHealth defines testing anxiety as a type of performance anxiety, or, “a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure’s on to do well.” It’s not like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Obsessive Compulsive  Disorder (OCD), where you feel the affects of the disorder the majority of the time. Rather, it’s an anxiety that arises in a situation where you’re set to perform in some way.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes some of the symptoms of test anxiety:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Anxiety Attack Symptoms
  • Unusually Strong Emotions such as Fear, Anger, Helplessness, and Disappointment
  • Negative Thinking
  • Difficulting Concentrating

What Causes Test Anxiety?

What is Test AnxietyTrue test anxiety isn’t caused by a lack of preparation. (While a lack of studying might make you anxious, it’s anxiety that stems as a direct consequence of an action.) Mayo Clinic’s article, “Is It Possible to Overcome Test Anxiety?” by Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, says, “A little nervousness before a test is normal and can help sharpen your mind and focus your attention. But with test anxiety, feelings of worry and self-doubt can interfere with your test-taking performance and make you miserable.”

It’s the kind of anxiety you might see in a movie, where the main character has studied for an exame for months, and as soon as he sits down, he draws a complete blank. I know I’ve had instances of sitting down, and having to read the first question three times before I could even begin to form a coherant answer to something I’d been studying for months.

The University of Alabama says our responses to tests are caused by multiple factors:

  • Physical: “consisting of hormonal, chemical, and muscular changes in the body”
  • Biological: “This is the so-called “fight or flight” response that was necessary for humans
    thousands of years ago.”
  • Mental: “Anxiety can be created by a person’s expectations concerning what is likely to
    happen. These expectations may be expressed in words to oneself, mental
    pictures, or physical symptoms.”

When it seems like our bodies and minds are working against us, testing anxiety can seem very hard to beat. Here are a few tricks, however, to making that testing anxiety a bit more manageable.

Testing Tips for Children

Testing anxiety is common, and with the growing number of tests we’re administering to our learners throughout the country, young and old, test anxiety is bound to grow, too. Here are some tips to making that test anixety a bit easier to handle.

  • Talking with your child can really help relieve anxiety. It’s important that she knows this test isn’t a joke, that she does need to try hard, but it’s even more important that she knows this test will not affect her worth in your eyes. “Do your best, and that’s all anyone can ask of you,” is what my parents always told me. Knowing your love and feelings toward her aren’t going to change can unload a lot of pressure anxiety she might be feeling.
  • Get good sleep and nourishment before the test. The Jackson Public School System in Mississippi says parents can help their children by making sure their bodies and minds get the appropriate rest and brain food before a test. (This is a great day to skip the breakfasts that are high in sugars, and try to stick so something that will fill their bellies longer, like whole wheat, bran, and low-fat proteins.)
  • Expect some stress, says PBS Kids article, “Test Stress: Ten Terrific Test-Taking Tips.” This is probably one of the best lessons I ever learned. I get get test anxiety every time I take a test. However, being aware of my natural inclination for stress (since I have high anxiety anyway), I can accept the fact that I’ll have stress, and expect it, instead of being blindsided and paralyzed by it.
  • Studying regularly is one of your best bets. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign says that cramming is a poor way to learn. I think that’s an understatement. Tests are meant to measure what you know, rather than how much you could memorize the night before the test. Truly learning the material your teachers give you is one of the best ways to be prepared. The information is already in your head. All you have to do is pull it out.
  • Practice Procedure. Depending on the test you’re taking, there are sometimes practice tests you can get your hands on. Just knowing how to fill in bubbles on a scantron can lower anxiety. Test procedures are always read at the beginning of an exam, but anxiety can keep a test-taker from listening well. If you’ve practiced, or have at least familiarized yourself with procedures, the scantron is no longer an enemy.
  • Read for fun. It might sound completely unrelated, but according to the American Library Association, fourth grade students who read every day show the highest ranking in test scores. And I don’t mean parents should just read with their children who are getting ready to test. This kind of preparation starts in infancy. The sooner our kiddos have access to books, the better!
  • Pace Yourself. According to, “Tips for Taking the ACT,” (The ACT is a prominent secondary school standardized test, an alternative to the famous SAT given in high school.), One of the most important parts of taking a test is pacing. If you don’t know it, be prepared to make a guess and move on. If you have time left when you’re done with that section of the test, you can go back and double-check your answers. It’s better to miss one or two questions than to get one answer and miss the rest of the section because you were stuck on one problem.

What’s the Point?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over years of taking tests (years of testing in the school district system, and then more tests to qualify for my elementary school teaching degree), I’ve learned to prepare, pray, and do my best. Really, that’s all you can do. You can’t go back after the test is done and change answers, and there’s only so much you can do to prepare.

I had friends who took the SAT in high school at least five times by the time they were in tenth grade. While I have a high respect for the dedication my fellow students showed, there comes a point where you have to say, “What’s done is done.” Whether you’re the one testing, or your child is the one asking to stay home from school with a sudden stomach ache, it’s imperative to remember that testing isn’t the end of the world.

Learning should be the true goal. The point of testing is to measure growth, not to be the ultimate end. We don’t learn to test. We learn to know. Testing is simply the way we try to see how affective our education system is. Whether you agree with testing or not isn’t going to change the fact that it’s here now. What you can do now, however, is to simply be the best learner you can be, prepare as best as a you can, keep your body and mind healthy, and when you sit down, know you’ve given it your all.

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