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Studying & Test Taking

Coping with Test Anxiety

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a psychological condition where people experience extreme distress and anxiety in a testing situation.

While many students feel some degree of stress before or during exams, test anxiety can actually impair learning and hurt test performance—too much stress can make it difficult to process information and make connections while you study, which could make it difficult to concentrate and remember information during the test.

In this section, we'll talk about how to recognize and deal with test anxiety so you can find success here at Sheridan!

Measure Your Test Anxiety

Are you curious to know more about your own test anxiety?

Take this quick quiz to get an idea of how much test anxiety you have right now.

Test Anxiety Overview

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety symptoms can vary between students and range from mild to severe. Some students might experience only mild symptoms of test anxiety and still do fairly well on their tests.

Other students are nearly incapacitated by their anxiety and perform terribly on tests despite knowing the course material—some could even experience panic attacks before or during exams.

Here are a few test anxiety symptoms to watch for in yourself:

  • Physical: Headaches, nausea or diarrhea, extreme body temperature changes, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fainting, rapid heart beat, and/or dry mouth.
  • Emotional: Excessive feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, depression, low self-esteem, uncontrollable crying or laughing, feelings of helplessness.
  • Behavioural: Fidgeting, pacing, substance abuse, avoidance (e.g. skipping class).
  • Cognitive: Racing thoughts, 'going blank', difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, feelings of dread, comparing yourself to others, difficulty organizing your thoughts.

Keep in mind that everyone is different and you might experience test anxiety in a completely different way than one of your friends or peers.

Causes of Test Anxiety

For many students, test anxiety can happen due to a combination of things—poor study habits, poor performance on previous tests, and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety.

A few potential causes can include:

  • Fear of failure: If you feel your self-worth is tied to how well you do on a test, this pressure you put on yourself can contribute to severe test anxiety.
  • Poor grades on earlier tests: If you haven't done well on previous tests—either because you didn't study well enough or because you were anxious—these experiences can cause even more anxiety and a self-defeating attitude every time you have to take another test.
  • Being unprepared: If you didn't study early enough or didn't study well enough, these decisions can add to your current feelings of anxiety.

Dealing with Test Anxiety

Learning strategies for better test preparation (i.e. using this module!) is a great first step to reduce your test anxiety.

Finding good stress-management techniques are also crucial for improving mindset and reducing stress and anxiety. If you haven't already, please visit our Mindset Matters module to learn more.

Other techniques you can try include:

  • Avoiding perfectionism: Don't expect a perfect grade on your test—we all make mistakes, and that's okay.
  • Looking at your "self-talk": How do you talk to yourself? Are you thinking anxious and defeated thoughts (e.g. "I'm not good enough", "I didn't study hard enough", "I can't do this", etc.)? Try to push those thoughts away and replace them with positive ones (e.g. "I can do this", "I know the material", "I studied hard", etc.).
  • Considering your "thought traps": You may find yourself imagining the worst-case scenario or over-generalizing how well you will do on the test—try to focus on the moment. Remember, this is just one test in your entire program.
  • Getting enough sleep: A good night's sleep will help your concentration and memory.
  • Reducing your physical tension: Practice breathing, meditation, yoga, etc.

Check out the Test Anxiety Booklet from Anxiety Canada to learn more tips and strategies to help you get a hold of your test anxiety!

Mental Health Supports at Sheridan

If you’re having difficulties managing stress, adjusting to college, or feeling sad and hopeless, please reach out to the Counselling Services team on Sheridan Central.

Sessions are free and confidential.