Overcoming Test Anxiety


Jaime Zuniga

Students learn to handle stress and testing anxiety in different ways.

Testing anxiety is a psychological condition in which people can experience both extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations. While many people experience some degree of stress and anxiety before and during exams, testing anxiety can actually affect a students’ learning and hurt test performances.

Excessive fear and nervous energy can make it difficult to learn, study, and focus while taking an exam. Some students might find it hard to concentrate during an exam because they have, sometimes, forgotten what they know about the material and whatever is on the test itself. Sophomore, Lilly Harris, said she sometimes blanks out during a test and even bites her fingernails when she is nervous before taking a test.

“I found out I had testing anxiety in third grade in the middle of the school year. The methods I use are to count my knuckles over and over or I close my eyes and breathe in and out slowly. I have the habit of not focusing and I get dizzy. Sometimes I forget what I’m doing or get over worked up. I would really like to get over it because taking tests brings down my grades a lot, but overcoming it is a struggle for me,” said Harris.

Many people experience stress or anxiety before an exam. For other students a little nervousness can actually help them perform at their best. In other words, some students perform better under pressure. However, when this distress becomes so excessive it can actually interfere with performances on exams. Freshman, Addiysn Ross, says she has always performed better under pressure and Ross gets higher test scores in doing so.

“I’ve always performed better under pressure. Usually, getting myself worried will help me get higher scores on tests, quizzes, and even, more complex, assignments too. I just think of me failing a class and then I get worried because I don’t want to fail. Obviously, I don’t think about it too much but it’s how I work better and it’s a method that works for me so that’s how I get nervous,” said Ross.

AP World History teacher, Jennifer Swegler, says that she has helped some students push through testing anxiety and that it depends on which nervous habits they have. Whether it’s getting the student to relax or even giving them an object to distract themselves with, Swegler helps students by reassuring them.

“Different kids have different anxieties. Some kids, you have to remind, hey, eliminate what you can if you get stuck, move on. Some kids need fidgets. In terms of speaking, I literally myself have a spinner ring for that. Another thing that students may not know is to eat a banana before a test or on testing day. Bananas actually have shown to help calm nervous energy and anxieties,” said Swegler.

Swegler also says she has taken notice that some of her students have some testing anxieties and feels it’s about not being prepared enough. Swegler also encourages students to seek help if students are having trouble with understanding tests and subjects.

“If you choose to approach it with the thought process of ‘I want to try to make myself feel the most comfortable.’ It’s about choosing to spend more time on studying, especially in a subject that makes you nervous. Some of it is asking for help when you actually need help. Don’t be afraid of your teachers. We don’t bite, we actually like helping students. If it’s your teacher that you’re having trouble understanding, there are other teachers in this whole school that are also willing to sit down and help. You just have to be a self advocate and go seek out the help either from other people, other teachers or even friends who understand the material that you don’t,” said Swegler.

The severity of test anxiety can vary considerably from one person to another. Some people may feel like they have “butterflies” in their stomach and while others might find it difficult to concentrate on the exam. World History and former AP psychology teacher, Heather Willson, said that the brain can produce different hormones that are responding to the testing anxiety surfacing the human mind and even emotions.

“You can produce different types of hormones. Some hormones turn into fight or flight. Other hormones make you nauseous, make you sweat. You have a physiological response to these hormones. Basically, your body starts shutting down, and either you want to run out of the room, or you want to put your head down and cry. Those are both natural physiological body responses to it,” said Willson.

Additionally, Willson says that there can be other side effects when it comes to a student’s testing anxiety, Including symptoms that affect the body.

“The hormones are going to mess with you to a further point. That kind of stress can cause acne, obesity, hair loss, and teeth loss. A lot of times, the reason why those hormones respond to get to a high strength is because people are not breathing deep enough. Your brain needs a certain amount of oxygen and when your heart is beating rapidly under stress and under anxiety that’s when people don’t go down and they’re no longer functioning, which causes a further stress rate, it’s best to usually just get them to breathe better,” said Willson.

Test anxiety can be stressful and it takes one step at a time to control it. Thinking positively and seeking help from a trusted adult, teacher, or guidance counselor can help one to gain back control and perform better on any future exams.