Do you find yourself becoming anxious before taking a test? Even if you have studied and feel confident about the material, do you still become nervous? Test anxiety can affect anyone, from the high school student taking a math quiz to a law school graduate taking the bar exam. You can overcome your anxiety by knowing what the test anxiety symptoms are and how to overcome them.

What are the Causes of Test Anxiety?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADDA), there are several causes for test anxiety. These include:

  • Not being prepared: Not studying ahead of time for the test can cause an increase in anxiety.
  • Being afraid to fail: You may feel like there are a lot of expectations to succeed, which can cause stress.
  • Previous experience: Having taken and failed tests before can create a vicious cycle, and leave you believing that you are not capable of success.

What are Test Anxiety Symptoms? 

Again, the ADDA describes typical symptoms of test anxiety. These include emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms like:

  • Physical: Feeling light-headed, nausea, shortness of breath, headaches, sweating, increased heart rate, diarrhea.
  • Behavioral: Comparing yourself to others taking the test, negative thinking, and difficulty concentrating on the test.
  • Emotional: Disappointment, fear, anger, helplessness.

Experiencing these symptoms can be overwhelming, and, for some people, may result in a panic attack.

Overcoming Test Anxiety Symptoms for Adults

Adults who struggle with test anxiety can use a variety of the following tools to address their test anxiety symptoms:

  • Study well ahead of the test so that you are prepared.
  • Practice breathing techniques when you begin to feel your anxiety beginning.
  • If taking a standardized test, such as the SAT, ACT, LSAT, etc., consider enrolling in a prep course. They can provide practice exams, coaching, and a review of math, writing, and logical reasoning skills.
  • Participate in a tutoring service, either privately or on campus.
  • The night before the test, make sure to eat a healthy meal, get enough sleep, and avoid caffeine or alcohol.
  • Make sure to arrive early to the testing site and have all necessary materials as specified by the teacher or testing agency.

Overcoming Test Anxiety Symptoms for Children

Children and teens who experience test anxiety can utilize the techniques listed above for adults. They can also take advantage of resources that may be available at their school. For example:

  • Working with the teacher to make sure your child understands the subject material. Has he or she completed all of the homework assignments, quizzes, projects, and readings that they need to take the test?
  • If your child struggles with other learning difficulties, consider getting an assessment for special education services. If your child qualifies, there are options such as receiving extra time to take tests.

In addition, Rebecca Jackson in Psychology Today writes about a breathing technique kids can use for taking tests. As described by Donaldson-Pressman, the technique involves turning the paper over, doing a “cuing action,” like touching the side of your head, taking a few breaths, saying a positive message, then flipping the paper back over to continue with the test.

Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Address Test Anxiety Symptoms

If you or your child are still struggling with test anxiety symptoms, consider seeing a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT allows you and the therapist to work through problems related to test anxiety and find solutions together.

Suffering from test anxiety symptoms does not have to happen for you every time you take a test. By knowing the causes, understanding the symptoms, and taking proactive steps, you can reduce your test anxiety symptoms and perform your best when taking a test.

Questions, Concerns, Thoughts?

I invite you to call me for a free 15 – minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about anxiety, treatment and my practice. Please visit my website @ or call me directly @ (206) 745-4933.