Test Anxiety

A certain amount of test anxiety for children and teens is to be expected. Sometimes it can even be a helpful motivating factor. However, for about 30% of children and teens, test anxiety may be more severe to the point where it interferes with being able to perform well on all types of quizzes, exams, and standardized achievement tests. Test anxiety for many students can also affect self-esteem and reduce motivation for homework and studying.

What does it feel like and what does it look like to have test anxiety?

Test anxiety is something that happens when you are adequately prepared for a test, but still panic, “blank out,” or overreact in some way. If your anxiety is a direct result of a lack of preparation, you are probably not dealing with test anxiety, but rather a normal reaction to not being adequately prepared.

Test anxiety can be seen in high achievers as well as in teens who aren’t doing well in school. Teens with test anxiety might find they feel anxious before and during tests, have the sensation of blanking out before and during tests, and have negative thoughts regarding how successful they feel they will do on the test.  

What are some other signs of test anxiety?

  • Excessive worry
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Perfectionism
  • Avoiding homework
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Difficulties sleeping

What can I do if I experience testing anxiety?

  • Use techniques to help you relax and feel calmer such as
    • Deep breathing
    • Progressive muscle relaxation
    • Visualization
  • Focus on positive thinking
    • Avoid thinking about yourself or the test in all-or-nothing terms.
    • Say things to yourself like, “Now is the time to take this test. I can be anxious slater.”
    • Counter negative thoughts with thoughts like, “I don’t have to be perfect.”
  • Focus on the effort, not just the result. Remind yourself that a test is only a test and there will be others. Avoid focusing on what your grade will be, but rather the effort you are currently putting in.
  • Learn smart study skills
    • Figure out how much time you need to study. Cramming for tests will only worsen test anxiety.
    • Combine all of the information you have in that subject (what you’ve read, taken notes on, etc.) and focus on mastering the main concepts you have learned.
    • Take breaks and pace yourself when studying so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Focus on eating in a healthy way, exercising and including recreational activities in your schedule to make sure you are taking good care of yourself and therefore have the energy and mindset to put the work into studying when needed.
  • Make smart choices in the 24 hours before your test
    • Don’t start cramming the night before the test.
    • Get plenty of sleep so you are well rested and better able to focus and concentrate.
    • Eat a balanced breakfast so you have energy going into your day.
    • Avoid coffee as that might only increase jittery feelings.
    • Try and distract yourself with something positive if you find your anxiety is increasing prior to the test (read a book, listen to some music, etc.)
  • Strengthen your test taking skills:
    • Review the test and read the directions twice so you don’t miss anything.
    • If you have to write an essay, consider making an outline of your thoughts first.
    • For multiple choice questions, start by eliminating the most obvious wrong answers. Rely on your first impression rather than re-thinking and over-analyzing. Beware of words like “only,” “always,” and “most” as these can be tricky qualifying words.
    • Do not rush. Wear a watch so you can check the time and pace yourself.
    • Recheck your questions only if you have time and if you are not anxious.
  • Reward yourself after a test by going out to eat, visiting with friends or doing anything else that feels fun or relaxing. It can help to know you have something to look forward to after you hard work. You can even remind yourself of your upcoming reward during your test if you find your anxiety is increasing.
  • Ask for help when needed
    • Talk to teachers
    • Talk to school counselors
    • Ask your parents for help with studying
    • Schedule an appointment with a reputable clinical social worker or reputable psychologist if you are having trouble managing your anxiety and need the guidance and support of a mental health professional.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.