Let’s talk about test anxiety

By: Tawana Watson

Have you ever prepared for an exam or test, gotten enough sleep, and arrived on time but couldn’t take the exam or test because you began having shortness of breath or the sensation that you were going to faint amid taking it? Have you ever felt confident about taking a major exam or test, sat down, and could not focus?  

Well, these fall under the category of anxiety— test anxiety, to be more specific. Test anxiety is a type of anxiety that pops up when the stress is associated with taking an exam or a test that is triggered by the need to not fail and to be perfect.   

According to the University of North Carolina, test anxiety can manifest itself in an array of symptoms.

Physical Symptoms of test anxiety can manifest as:

  1. Headache 
  2. Nausea 
  3. Excessive sweating 
  4. Shortness of breath 
  5. Rapid heartbeat 
  6. Lightheadedness 
  7. Feeling faint
  8. Panic attack

Emotional Symptoms of test anxiety can manifest as:

  1. Feelings of stress 
  2. Fear
  3. Helplessness 
  4. Disappointment
  5. Negative thoughts (rumination about past poor performances, consequences of failure, feeling inadequate, helpless) 
  6. Mind going blank
  7. Racing thoughts

Behavioral/Cognitive Symptoms of test anxiety can manifest as:

  1. Difficulty concentrating 
  2. Thinking negatively 
  3. Comparing yourself to others
  4. Procrastinating

According to research by Dr. Angela Farmer, it is believed that test anxiety increases dramatically when a student is given a standardized test. There is a growing debate whether standardized testing is a reliable and valid method of determining an individual’s aptitude for college or a chosen profession. A standardized test, like the SAT or ACT, which supposedly measures a student’s readiness for college, cannot do so accurately due to how anxiety affects the body and mind. Likewise, board tests, such as the CPA exam or the bar exam, can cause an individual to fail multiple times because of the way anxiety affects an individual.  

While being prepared for an exam or test will not stop the anxiety from manifesting, there are things that can be done to help put you in a position to better handle test anxiety before test anxiety has a chance to handle you. 

Before the exam, take time for yourself and practice self-care as much as you can. Don’t use all your time to study, but use some of that time to relax and enjoy a movie or a night out with your friends. Also, ensure you eat and get enough rest. There is no reason for you to do an all-nighter because the brain needs rest to rejuvenate itself- cramming information is NOT the answer.  During the test, make sure you are comfortable and make sure that you are breathing at a regular rate. Be mindful of your thoughts and regulate them so that you are in the present moment. 


For more information on test anxiety and ways to overcome it, please refer to this website or contact the CSU Counseling Center at 216-687-2277, select option 2.

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