Test Anxiety

“All we have to fear is fear itself.”

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

It doesn’t hurt to have a little anxiety. You don’t want to become complacent and lose that “edge.” This is especially true in test-taking. A little stress will motivate you to prepare better.

While the right amount of anxiety gives you an edge, too much anxiety can set you over the edge and actually cause you to do what you fear most about test-taking—fail!

Why? You realize that within the next 60 to 90 minutes a large part of your grade will be determined by what you write down on that piece of paper, by which circle you darken with your No. 2 pencil, by how well you have skimmed a passage or memorized a list.

Anxiety is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for students in the test-taking process. Let’s examine some of the situations that produce test anxiety- and ways to avoid them:

            1. Fear of success: “If I do well, my parents, teachers, fellow students, and friends will expect me to be smart ALL the time.”

            You’ll always have pressure; it may as well be positive rather than negative.

            2. Fear of competition: You know the material, you’re able to discuss it in class, but during the test, you are intensely aware of what your classmates are doing. Look at them! Writing down one answer after another- and you just know they’re all correct.

            Who cares about them? Compete with yourself. Try to beat your previous test scores: exceed your last grade. That’s positive competition.

            3. Inability to concentrate: Your love life is a mess. Your roommate is partying to all hours of the night…in your room. Your parent’s are nagging to you to come home for a visit.

            Life is complicated. But you’ve got to learn how to unwind the threads of life when situations, such as test preparation, require concentration and focus. Mental exercises can help separate the task at hand (your huge chem. final) and the outside distracters.

            4. “Everyone else is panicking, so I guess I should, too.” We all know at least one Anxiety Professional who seems to thrive on the crisis atmosphere of pre-test panic. “I’ll never learn all this stuff.” “I just found out we have to know everything in Chapter 12.” “I heard this professor fails half the class on the final.”

            Don’t get sucked in. Avoid these people. Don’t answer the phone when they call. Study where they don’t. Stay positive, let them worry about not knowing the information and save the time they spend worrying focusing on your studying.

            5. Lack of preparation. You’re scared to death of the test because you’re not prepared for it. Maybe you never opened a book, read the material, done the assignments or attended class all semester- or it could mean that you’re studying ineffectively.

            To avoid test anxiety, prepare: Answer these questions far in advance to the test date:

  • What material will be covered?
  • How many points possible?
  • How much of my grade is based on this test?
  • How much time will I have to take the test?
  • Where will the exam be held and what type of test is it? (Multiple choice, essay, etc.)
  • Can we bring notes, is it open book?
  • Will we need anything, materials?

Beating test anxiety is all about preparation and time management. If you plan ahead and anticipate your need for time and materials- you’ll succeed.

Recommended Reading

"Ace” Any Test, the latest addition to Ron Fry’s best selling How to Study Program, is one of seven books college students can turn to for study preparation. Published by Career Press, these books offer easy-to-implement steps to better grades. Also included in the series: How to Study, Improve Your Reading, Write Papers, Take Notes, Manage Your Time, and Improve Your Memory. Contact (800) CAREER-1.

Preparing For Tests

  • REMEMBER that tests measure how well you performed on one test, in one subject, on one day.  They do NOT measure your intelligence, creativity, worth, ability to contribute to society, or your capacity for success in life.

  • The KEY to successful test preparation is MANAGING YOUR REVIEW TIME.  The biggest advantage of EARLY REVIEW is that you will have plenty of time to rehearse and create associations between what you already know and new material.


    • PRE-CLASS:  to focus on the key issues to be discussed that day
    • POST-CLASS:  to keep new information from being lost from short-term memory

  • WEEKLY REVIEWS:  Allow about ONE HOUR PER SUBJECT to go over all of the material covered in the past week

  • MAJOR REVIEWS:  A week or more BEFORE an exam, allow about 2 to 5 HOURS PER SUBJECT for a major review. 

One or more of these study tools may work for you:

  • Study Checklists
  • Mind Map Summaries
  • Flash Cards

    • Make sure you have learned the distinctions between various key concepts that are similar.
    • Read each question, answer it in your head, and look for the choice that confirms your answer.  Circle the questions you can’t answer and come back to them later.
    • If you guess, first eliminate the choices that could not possibly be correct.
    • Essay exams require the comprehensive understanding of a large amount of information pulled together in an organized way.  Make sure to identify fundamental ideas and the central themes that tie these ideas together.
    • Determine what the question is asking.  Watch for key words such as “compare,” “describe,” “analyze,” etc.
    • Before you begin to write, make a quick outline of your answer
    • Write clearly.  Use simple sentences that communicate your ideas clearly and briefly.
    • Write on only one side of the page.  Leave space on either margin to add items when you review.
    • Leave time to review your answers.  Don’t forget to check spelling and grammar in addition to content.