Published: June 30, 2021
The difference between being nervous before or during a test and having test anxiety is that test anxiety interferes with a student’s ability to do well on a test. Nervousness can be productive. Test anxiety, however, is not.
Even for a student who does everything she can to prepare for a test — take detailed notes, study often, do all assigned readings and homework — test anxiety can cause her to underperform.
Standardized testing anxiety can be particularly detrimental to a student’s education. Students with standardized testing anxiety experience anxiety when doing standardize tests like the SAT or MCAT, which are an important gateway to success.
Test anxiety can be experienced by many different types of learners — the experience is not limited to one type of student.
Symptoms of test anxiety can be behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical. Some of these include:
- loss of focus
- inability to remember information
- negative self-talk
- increased heart rate or heart palpitations
- muscle tension or soreness
- shortness of breath
- stomach pain
A less common, though severe, symptom is selective mutism, whereby a student becomes unable to speak while taking an exam.
Students preparing for online tests will benefit from understanding what testing anxiety is and what they can do about it. Test anxiety is a serious obstacle, but it’s an obstacle that can be overcome.
What is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is a psychological condition that shares many of the same symptoms as anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.
Commonly experienced among those who suffer from anxiety, including test anxiety, are anxiety attacks and panic attacks. (The chief difference between anxiety and panic attacks is that anxiety attacks build gradually while panic attacks happen with little to no warning.) These attacks can be both frightening and debilitating. A student who experiences one of these attacks during an exam may be unable to complete it.
Test anxiety manifests differently in every student who experiences it. For some, symptoms may be mild. For others, symptoms may be extreme. To make things even more complicated, children with testing anxiety may not know they have it. They may confuse it with simple nervousness, or believe they’re afraid of tests because they’re not good enough.
Other students may recognize their anxiety but refrain from speaking about it for fear of being negatively perceived or made fun of.
Although test anxiety is common, it’s not a widely understood condition. Teachers and parents with testing anxiety may not be able to identify it in their students if they are not adequately informed.
Unfortunately, some teachers and parents may even believe a student with testing anxiety does poorly on exams not because he has anxiety but because he is underprepared, uninspired, or even lazy. Students who are perceived in this way may come to perceive themselves in this way — which only leads to more anxiety, fear of failure, or humiliation.
Causes of Test Anxiety
Test anxiety can be a symptom of an overarching anxiety disorder. On its own, test anxiety is considered a form of performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is a fear about one’s ability to perform at a specific task.
For this reason, test anxiety has the potential to become a vicious cycle. Because students suffer anxiety during an exam, they come to associate exams with anxiety, and become even more anxious during exams. As a result, they may feel that they have no control over their anxiety, and stop trying to overcome it. This can lead to a state called learned helplessness.
If students don’t learn to recognize their anxiety for what it is, they aren’t likely to seek help. And if they don’t seek treatment, they’re not likely to overcome their anxiety. On the contrary, their anxiety can become worse.
Due to test anxiety, even the most dedicated and promising students can become so distressed by tests, or so humiliated by what they perceive to be personal shortcomings, that they will become fearful of school and fall far short of their academic potential.
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Test Anxiety Tips and Help
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome test anxiety. The first step is to identify test anxiety; the second is to seek help. Prep Academy Tutors can identify test anxiety in their students and help them overcome it in order to become the kind of students they have the potential to be.
Parents living in Ontario may look at tutoring services in Ontario. Parents living in New York may consider private tutoring in NYC — although online tutoring services are available to anyone anywhere.
In addition to enlisting the help of tutors, parents may also seek help for their kids from mental health professionals.
Medication is an option. So too is counselling and different kinds of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and exposure treatment therapy.
Natural remedies are another option. These include:
- avoiding stimulants like energy drinks or coffee
The goal is to find the sort of help that best suits your child’s needs.
If you think your children may have test anxiety, it’s important that you communicate with them and help them understand that test anxiety is neither permanent nor inescapable.
There are questions you can ask your children to find out whether they have test anxiety:
- Do you worry about taking tests?
- Do you feel different when you take tests?
- When you take a test, do you feel like you know as much, or remember as much, about the subject as you do when you’re not taking a test?
- Do you find that, when you take a test, you suddenly forget what you’ve learned?
- Do you find it tough to concentrate when you take a test?
- Do you experience physical symptoms while taking a test that you tend not to experience otherwise?
As parents, another beneficial thing to do is talk to your child’s tutors and teachers. They may be able to tell whether your child behaves differently during tests, or seems to underperform compared to their performance in class or on homework assignments.
For example, if a teacher notices that your child doesn’t fidget during class, but does fidget during tests, this might be a sign that your child experiences test anxiety.
Test anxiety damages students’ self-confidence in their ability to do well in school. Our certified tutors understand how to identify test anxiety and teach coping strategies that boost confidence and in turn improve students’ academic performance.