How Can My Student Manage Test Anxiety?

Disappointing exam scores and grades can be daunting for any student, but for students with test anxiety they can be cruel reminders that this condition can be debilitating and cyclical in nature.

A certain level of nervousness is common for students, especially when facing challenging exams and courses. it is the level of anxiety that matters. 

Whereas mild anxiety can be a powerful motivator that encourages students to prepare for tests, excessive worry can be so affective that it perpetuates a cycle that erodes confidence as well as interferes with learning and performance.

Characteristics of Student Test Anxiety

  • Feelings of "going blank" during exams.
  • Racing heart, breathing difficulty and feeling like the room is "closing in" during exams.
  • Sudden knowledge of answers after turning in tests.
  • Low/inconsistent scores on exams.

Causes of Mild Test Anxiety
Some forms of test anxiety can be temporary and/or short duration experiences that result from students having an unclear understanding of the course material, poor study or time management skills, insufficient test preparation, and/or lack of organization.  

In some cases, students can take an overly casual attitude to courses and procrastinate until it is time for exams.  Turning to last minute cram sessions, which often involve lack of sleep, long stretches of uninterrupted studying and the use of beverage stimulates, the students feel physically, psychologically and emotionally taxed by the time they begin the exams.  While frustrating and challenging, these experiences are often temporary and the anxiety lessons once the exams are over and/or the courses are completed.

Prior to that time, however, students should talk with their professors about course material and with their academic advisors if they feel they may be pursuing wrong majors or minors.  Likewise, students should visit the Learning Center to gain tutoring assistance and/or insights on preparing for and analyzing tests, organizing and managing time, taking and using class notes, and study reading.  Other important recommendations include learning and using relaxation techniques, preparing in advance for scheduled exams, following good eating and sleeping habits, and having a positive and confident self outlook.

Helping Prolonged Test Anxiety
Sometimes a cycle develops that affects student learning and performance on a regular basis.  The cycle begins with test anxiety that may have resulted from prior bad experiences with test taking, lack of confidence, fear of failure, performance anxiety and/or other reasons.

As the cycle progresses, students feel overly threatened of ensuing exams and/or inadequate and unsure of their abilities.  Such feelings often lead to nervousness, tension and anxiety.  If these conditions persist and build, students can become panicked and lose their concentration and confidence during the tests.  If poor test performance and grades result, the students begin to fear their next exams, thus perpetuating the cycle.

For individuals experiencing this cycle, it can be frustrating and detrimental to their academic performance as well as their psychological, physical and emotional health.  BW's Counseling Services offers students an environment for discussing their test anxiety as well as other feelings and factors that may be contributing to the condition.  It offers individual counseling, screenings for depression, anxiety, eating disorders and alcohol misuse, as well as other services.

When to Seek Help
One of the most common issues facing students is anxiety. While mild anxiety can be expected before exams, interviews and oral presentations, it can be detrimental when a person's worries become overwhelming and interfere with his/her daily living and ability to cope.

If your student experiences the following symptoms on a regular basis, he/she should seek assistance:

  • Unrealistic or excessive worry and fears
  • Excessive sweating, trembling, shakiness, muscle aches
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea, extreme dry mouth
  • Dizziness, chronic tension headaches
  • Racing or pounding heart, chest tightness
  • Rapid pulse, episodes of hyperventilation
  • Ritualistic behaviors to reduce or avoid anxiety
  • Extreme and/or prolonged feelings of disappointment, anger, depression, helplessness
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