Test-taking — and the anxiety that comes along with it — are part of every school year, whether it’s brought on by final exams, standardized testing, or the dreaded SAT. It’s perfectly normal to have some anxiety around test-taking. Tests are a big deal, after all, and a certain amount of nervousness can spur you on to study and perform your best. But when does stress caused by tests become detrimental?

Stress Before Tests

Maybe it would help to look at why we get stressed before taking tests in the first place. You might be surprised to learn that a little bit of pre-test stress is healthy and even helpful.

You might be surprised to learn that a little bit of pre-test stress is healthy and even helpful.

According to Verywellmind.com, elevated stress levels can increase performance, up to a certain point. This relationship between arousal and performance, called the Yerkes-Dodson Law, was first shown in an experiment where rats were given electric shocks to help them complete a maze. While the milder shocks increased their performance, once the shocks became too strong, the rats began scurrying around in random directions, and their performance declined.

So, when you’re feeling a bit nervous as you prepare for that next big exam, it could just be your brain’s way of making sure you are adequately equipped for the task ahead. The elevated stress levels can work to motivate you to study, as well as give you the energy and attention you need to perform well on the test itself.

But just like with the rats and the maze, there’s a point at which healthy stress turns into unhealthy test anxiety.

What Is Test Anxiety?

According to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety where the pressure to succeed becomes so great that you are unable to concentrate or perform your best. It is often a combination of emotional, physical, and behavioral/cognitive symptoms.

What Is Test Anxiety? - The Meadows Adolescent Center

If you experience the following symptoms before or during a test, you may be experiencing test anxiety:

  • Emotional symptoms – worry, fear, anger, disappointment, depression, or low self-esteem
  • Physical symptoms –headache, nausea, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, light-headedness, panic attacks
  • Behavioral/cognitive symptoms – negative self-talk, comparing yourself to others, fidgeting, racing thoughts, and difficulty concentrating 

Why Do Students Get Test Anxiety?

What are the primary causes of stress in students as they prepare to take tests? While there are many factors that can contribute to test anxiety, here are some of the most common:

  • Fear of failure
  • History of poor test-taking
  • Lack of preparation
  • Perfectionistic tendencies

Standardized Testing and Anxiety

One of the largest contributors to test anxiety is stress caused by standardized testing. But managing your stress so that you can perform well on a standardized test can be done. Well-known test-prep organization The Princeton Review offers the following tips to minimize your stress and maximize your performance:  

Be prepared

The more prepared you are for your test, the less anxious you will be going into it, and the more confident you will feel.

Prioritize sleep

Especially the night before your test, ensure you get plenty of rest to keep your nerves calm.

Eat well

Eat a good breakfast the day of the test, and make sure you have nutritious snacks to keep your energy levels stable so you can concentrate.

Arrive early

The stress of being late and rushing to a test only makes anxiety worse. Get there in time to settle in, so you can be calm when the test begins.

Think happy thoughts

A positive attitude can go a long way toward fighting off anxiety. Think up a mantra such as, I can do this, to repeat to yourself as you work.

Focus on breathing

Deep breathing can calm racing thoughts and a rapid heart rate. Simply focusing on your breath can also ease feelings of anxiousness.

The more prepared you are for your test, the less anxious you will be going into it, and the more confident you will feel.

When to Get Help

If your test anxiety isn’t eased by any of these tips, or if you experience anxiety that affects other aspects of your life, it might be time to talk to a professional. We at The Meadows offer a wide range of treatments for anxiety and other mental health issues. Our highly trained, caring staff work to provide whole-person treatment tailored to your unique needs. Contact us today to start on your path to healing.