TEST ANXIETY 2018-02-05T02:48:45-07:00

Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety (TA) is characterized by cognitive, behavioural, and physiological reactions that are brought on by academic testing. TA may lead to lower grades and may increase the dropout rate among students. It can be debilitating and is not something that everyone can easily overcome without professional help. A combination of skills training and psychological treatment is often needed to improve performance and decrease TA. People suffering from TA also usually experience stigma about the issue, which may discourage you to seek help.[1]

  • Fifteen to forty percent of university students experience functionally impairing levels of TA.
  • Females report higher levels of TA than males. Evidence also suggests that poor academic performance associated with TA is stronger in females than males.
  • In a study conducted in 2015, 11% of students reported that they would not seek help for TA because it would make them appear weak.
  • Thirty-nine percent of students reported experiencing TA to an extent that it impaired their academic performance.
  • Thirty-two percent of the students expressed negative views about individuals who experience TA.
  • Twenty-one percent of the students reported that they felt that their professors would not be able to understand nor be willing to help with regards to issues related to TA.
  • Only 12% of the students were able to correctly identify the available services for TA, such as workshops, seminars, and counselling.
  • Hiding the test anxiety from others
  • Procrastination before a test
  • Avoidance of studying, the test, or situations related to the test
  • Unable to use effective learning strategies due to the anxiety
  • Attempting to learn the content with perfect results
  • Anxiety-provoking gestures such as nail biting, tapping, biting the lip, scratching
  • Shame
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive fear of poor performance
  • Hopelessness
  • Worry
  • “I cannot do this. I am way too nervous.”
  • “I am not smart enough to be able to answer all the questions in this exam.”
  • “I won’t be able to answer these questions correctly.”
  • “I am going to fail this test.”

Trauma & Abuse can have long-lasting effects on your body, even when the frightening situation is long in the past. Some of the physical symptoms include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Startled reflexes
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling numb
  • Nightmares
  • Strong startle reflex
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself
  • Fatigue and Restlessness

People suffering from TA usually experience the following physical symptoms before or during an exam:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating and feeling hot while writing the test
Brain imaging studies showed that a defect in the right temporal lobe was associated with the anxiety and panic symptoms. People with anxiety disorder were also found to have abnormalities in the frontal cortex, the occipital and temporal areas which suggests that these areas are relevant in the presence of anxiety symptoms

Stimulation of the autonomic nervous system caused physical symptoms of anxiety. Psychological stress also increases the synthesis and release of cortisol, which serves to mobilize and replenish a person’s energy, increase arousal, vigilance, focused attention, and memory formation.

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Research shows that CBT is an effective treatment for Anxiety Disorders[4] and in cases where Anxiety is mixed with Depression.[5] CBT for Anxiety Disorders was also found to be effective in improving the physical and psychological quality of life of those who received the treatment.[6]
  • Mindfulness Therapy (MT): Research shows that MT is effective in treating Anxiety Disorders. MT significantly lowered the symptom severity among participants suffering from a current episode of a Depressive or Anxiety Disorder.[7] MT in was shown to be effective in terms of enhancing an individual’s level of stress, coping, and resilience.[8]
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is effective in reducing anxiety especially when anxiety has been so pervasive that it began to firmly implant negative thoughts and cognition that a person has about themselves such as “I am not smart,” “I am a failure,” etc. When anxiety has an impact and negatively changes how people view themselves, how they view the world and/or how they view other people, it becomes traumatizing. EMDR is effective with all types of trauma (both minor and major).[9]
Test anxiety can interfere with your studying and may lead to poor academic performance. Here are a few tips on how you can manage TA on your own:

  • Good time management decreases TA. Having enough time to prepare for a test decreases stress about making mistakes or failing.
  • Set realistic goals when it comes to taking tests. Putting too much pressure on yourself only increases stress and anxiety.
  • Practice effective learning strategies and test taking tricks. Learn memorization strategies and learn strategies regarding how to answer test questions effectively. Not only will this encourage effective study habits, it will also improve self-esteem. This will also help reduce stress and anxiety experienced before, during, and after a test.

Tests are an ongoing part of a student’s life and have a profound impact on the student’s grade and future academic success. People experiencing TA usually report a lot of stress and anxiety before and during the test. They also often ruminate about how poorly they felt that they did, after the test. Due to high anxiety associated with studying and tests, procrastination and avoidance of school and tests is common. People experiencing TA also judge themselves harshly, which leads them to avoid seeking help. At Hopewell Psychological, we can provide you with a supportive, trusting, non-judgmental, and collaborative setting in which to help you manage your stress and anxiety related to your Test Anxiety.

*Psychologists are covered under Insurance Companies in Canada. You will need to check with your insurance company about the specific details regarding your coverage.


[1] Gerwing, Travis G., Rash, Joshua A., Allen Gerwing, Alyssa M., Bramble, Brev, and Landine, Jeff. “Perceptions and Incidence of Test Anxiety.” The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 6.3 (2015). http://dx.doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2015.3.3.

[2] Herzer, Frank; Wendt, Julia; and Hamm, Alfons O. “Discriminant validity of constructs derived from the self-regulative model for evaluation anxiety for predicting clinical manifestations of test anxiety.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 73. (2015): 52-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2015.07.012

[3] Sadock, Benjamin James, Sadock, Virginia Alcott, and Ruiz, Pedro. “Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry.” Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer. 2015. Print.

[4] Bandelow, Borwin; Reitt, Markus; Rover, Christian; Michaelis, Sophie; Gorlich, Yvonne; and Wedekind, Dirk. “Efficacy of Treatments in Anxiety Disorders: A meta-analysis.” International Clinical Psychopharmacology 30.4 (2015): 183-192.  DOI: 10.1097/YIC.0000000000000078.

[5] Watts, Sarah E.; Turnell, Adrienne; Kladnitski, Natalie; Newby, Jill M.; and Andrews, Gavin. “Treatment-as-usual (TAU) is anything but usual: A meta-analysis of CBT versus TAU for anxiety and depression.” Journal of Affective Disorders 175. (2015): 152-167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.025.

[6] Hofmann, Stefan G., Wu, Jade Q., and Boettcher, Hannah. “Effective Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders on Quality of Life: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 82.3 (2014): 375-391. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035491.

[7] Strauss, Clara, Cavanagh, Kate, Oliver, Annie, and Pettman, Danelle. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for People Diagnosed with a Current Episode of an Anxiety or Depressive Disorder: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” PLoS ONE 9.4 (2014): E96110. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096110.

[8] Zenner, Charlotte, Herrnleben-Kurz, Solveig, and Walach, Harald. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Schools: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Frontiers in Psychology 5.603 (2014). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00603.

[9] Chen, Y-R., Hung, K-W., Tsai, J-C., Chu, H., Chung, M-H., Chen, S-R., Liao, Y-M., Ou, K-L., Chang, Y-C., & Chou, K-R. “Efficacy of Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for Patients with Posttraumatic-Stress Disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” PLOS One. 9. 8. (2014). E103676. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103676

[10] Ebrahmi, F., Foroutan, M. R., and Samkhanian, E. “Time management education influence on decreasing exam anxiety and conditioned university students’ negligence of Tehran universities.” European Psychiatry 33. (2016): S391-S391. DOI: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2016.01.1112

[11] Saeid, Motevalli, Samsilah, Roslan, Tajularipin, Sulaiman, Sahandri, Hamzah, Norlizah, Hassan, and Maryam, Garmjani. Asian Social Scienc. 9.7 (2013): 85-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ass.v9n7p85

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