Counselor talking to a student

Test Anxiety

Counseling Center

Test anxiety is the feeling of nervousness and distress you experience before or during an exam. Students who suffer from test anxiety report difficulties with concentration, mental blocks, and distractibility.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety:

Physical - headaches, nausea, extreme body temperature changes, excessive sweating, shortness or breath, light-headedness or fainting, rapid heart beat, and/or dry mouth
Emotional - excessive feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, depression, uncontrollable crying or laughing, feelings of helplessness.
Behavioral - fidgeting, pacing, substance abuse, avoidance
Cognitive - racing thoughts, 'going blank,’ difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, feelings of dread, comparing yourself to others, difficulty organizing your thoughts

Test Anxiety Questionnaire:
Here is a short questionnaire to determine if you are experiencing a mild or severe case of test anxiety.  To complete the evaluation, read through each statement and reflect upon past testing experiences.  You may wish to consider all testing experiences or focus on a particular subject (history, math, science, etc.) one at a time.  Indicate how often each statement describes you by choosing a number from one to five as outlined below.  (Nist & Diehl, 1990)

Never     Rarely   Sometimes   Often    Always

   1             2                  3          4               5

___ I have visible signs of nervousness such as sweaty palms, shaky hands, etc. right before a test.

___ I have “butterflies” in my stomach before a test.

___ I feel nauseated before a test.

___ I read through the test and feel that I do not know any of the answers.

___ I panic before and during a test.

___ My mind goes blank during a test.

___ I remember the information that I blanked on once I get out of the testing situation.

___ I have trouble sleeping the night before a test.

___ I make mistakes on easy questions or put answers in the wrong places.

___ I have trouble choosing answers.


Now add up your score on all the statements. Scores will range from 10-50.

10-19 points indicates that you do not suffer from test anxiety. In fact, if your score was extremely low (close to 10), a little more anxiety may be healthy to keep you focused and to get your blood flowing during exams.

20-35 points shows that although you exhibit some of the characteristics of test anxiety, the level of stress and tension you’re experiencing is probably healthy.

Over 35 points suggests that you are experiencing an unhealthy level of test anxiety. You should evaluate the reason(s) for the distress and identify strategies for compen-sating.  Also, you may want to consider seeking assistance at the Counseling Center.

Some tips for reducing test anxiety
Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to make test anxiety more manageable:

  • Preparation - Develop good study habits; spread your studying over several days; ask for additional help when needed; eat good foods, get adequate rest, and exercise to build energy; attend class regularly and complete all assignments in a timely manner.
  • Keep a positive attitude - Develop reasonable expectations; do not allow your grades to become dependent on the outcome of one exam; avoid negative and irrational thoughts about catastrophic results; set up a system of rewards for dedicated studying and good test performance; encourage yourself;  avoid comparing yourself with others.
  • Relaxation techniques - Deep breathing exercises, imagery and visualization, and muscle relaxation techniques can help to increase focus an concentration; don't arrive too early or get distracted by others preparing for the test; check to make sure you have everything you will need. Practice relaxation so that it becomes an automatic response.

Test Taking Strategies

Before the Test

  • Review your summary sheets for an overall view of the material. 
  • Recite in your own words
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine which increases anxiety.
  • Remember to encourage yourself and STOP critical statements.
  • Give yourself time to feel composed and to be on time for the exam.
  • Avoid anxious classmates who are talking about the exam.
During the Test
  • Look over the entire test, READ THE DIRECTIONS, plan your approach, and schedule your time.
  • Focus your attention on the test. Don't waste time and energy worrying, thinking about the consequences of not doing well, or wondering what others are doing.
  • If you don't know an answer, mark the question. Suggest to yourself that you probably studied it and the answer will come to you when you get back to it. Go on to a question you CAN answer.
  • If you start to feel anxious, try to relax yourself. Close your eyes for a moment, take a deep breath and think a positive thought such as, “I CAN DO THIS!”
  • Use all the time allowed for reviewing your answers and completing ideas. Only change answers if you are sure of yourself.

After the Test
Reward yourself for having tried your best. Don't go over the test questions with others.Regardless of your performance on the test, you can learn from the returned exam.

Final Thoughts

  • Resources are available to help you such as free tutors, the Writing Room, and the Math Learning Center.
  • If you are still experiencing test anxiety after using these suggestions, you may want to meet with a counselor.