Many people experience stress or anxiety before an exam. In fact, a little nervousness can actually help you perform your best. When this distress becomes so excessive that it actually interferes with performance on an exam, it is known as test anxiety.
Symptoms of Test Anxiety
The symptoms of test anxiety can vary considerably and range from mild to severe. Some students experience only mild symptoms of test anxiety and are still able to do fairly well on exams. Other students are nearly incapacitated by their anxiety, performing dismally on tests or even experiencing panic attacks before or during exams.
- Physical symptoms of test anxiety include sweating, shaking, rapid heart beat, dry mouth, fainting and nausea. Milder cases of test anxiety can cause a sense of "butterflies" in the stomach, while more severe cases can actually cause students to become physically ill.
- Cognitive and behavioral symptoms can include fidgeting or outright avoidance of testing situations. In some cases, test anxiety can become so severe that students will drop out of school in order to avoid the source of their fear. Substance abuse can also occur, since many students attempt to self-treat their anxiety by taking "downers" such as prescription medications and alcohol. Many people with test anxiety report "blanking out" answers to the test, even though they thoroughly studied the information and were sure that they know the answers to the questions. Negative self-talk, trouble concentrating on the test and racing thoughts are also common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.
- Emotional symptoms of test anxiety can include depression, low self-esteem, anger and a feeling of hopelessness. Students often feel helpless to change their situation, or belittle and berate themselves about their symptoms and poor test performance.
Fortunately, there are steps that students can take to alleviate these unpleasant and oftentimes harmful symptoms. By learning more about the possible causes of their test anxiety, students can begin to look for helpful solutions.
If test anxiety has been affecting your exam performance, then be sure to check out these great tips from Kelly Roell, About.com's Guide to Test Prep, on overcoming test anxiety.