Counseling and Wellness Center

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. 

Symptoms of test anxiety
If you experience some of the following symptoms while test-taking, you might be struggling with test anxiety. 

Feelings  Thoughts 
 - Overwhelming fear or panic       - I'm so stupid.
 - Nervous worrying  - I'm going to fail.
 - Feelings of worthlessness  - This is hopeless.
 - Pervasive negativism  - Why should I even try?
 - Feeling of impending doom  - I just can't do (this subject).
   - I have to get out of here.
Physical Experiences  Cognitive/Behavior Patterns 
 - Increased sweating  - Mind goes blank or freezes up
 - Pounding heart  - Distractibility; poor concentration
 - Headaches  - Increased errors
 - Shakiness  - Racing thoughts
 - Upset stomach  - Overthinking concepts & questions
 - Muscle tightness  - Second-guessing/changing answers
 - Insomnia  
 - Fatigue  

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. Consider the extent to which each of these applies to you, and attempt to make the following changes.

Focus on test preparation  Relieve psychological pressures 
 - Clarify test formats and contents
   with your instructors.
 - Arrive at the exam early and take
   time to relax before the test.
 - Know what your instructor expects.  - Don't discuss the exam with peers.
 - Ask questions.  - Keep your test goals reasonable.
 - Review past assignments, quizzes,     
   and textbook sample problems.
 - Practice affirming statements like
   "I'm ready for this test; I can do this."
 - Create a study guide and practice
   tests on exam topics.
 - Use a thought-stopping technique
   to manage distracting thoughts.
 - Collaborate with other students.  - Don't let the test define personal worth.
 - Don't cram. Prioritize study time.  
Use effective test-taking strategies  Practice health behaviors 
 - Learn basic test-taking strategies for
   various test formats (multiple choice 
   vs. essay tests).
 - Plan and manage your study time well,
   and get plenty of sleep during the nights
   preceding your exams.
 - Read test directions thoroughly.  - Eat a healthy meal before each exam.
 - Do a "mind dump" when you first receive
   the test: write down any formulas or
   facts you are afraid you might forget.
 - Practice deep breathing techniques
   regularly so you can access these
   skills at exam time.
 - Take one question at a time; don't
   focus on the entire test all at once.
 - Avoid excessive use of caffeine,
   including energy drinks.
 - Don't rush; pace yourself to time limits.  - Exercise regularly.
 - Don't dwell on questions you can't
   answer. Mark them, skip them, and
   return to them later.
 - Take mental breaks and have some fun!
   This will actually improve your academic
 - Avoid observing others' test-taking
   behavior. Don't engage in self-comparison.

Don’t let test anxiety interfere with your success at Rivier University. The Counseling and Wellness Center can help you gain control over this frustrating condition.

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