Test Anxiety: How to Address This Growing Problem

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/High School Principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Frustrated student holding her head while sitting at a desk with an exam.

With the advent of “high-stakes” testing now part of the norm in education, anxiety toward testing has increased dramatically. Students desiring that coveted graduation diploma are faced with not only passing required courses but also scoring an acceptable percentage on end-of-course tests.

What is Test Anxiety?

Anxiety is loosely defined as worry about something upcoming that has an unknown outcome. Test anxiety then would be worry or concern about an upcoming test that will impact a student’s grade or academic future in some way. When you add in the hopes and dreams for the future that might hang in the balance, it doesn’t take long to find yourself consumed by the pressure of performing well on “the test”. That’s why knowing how to deal with test anxiety is vital.

The Negative Impacts of Test Anxiety on Students

Test anxiety can have many negative impacts on students, and there are test anxiety symptoms to look for. A student with test anxiety could easily withdraw from friends and family, negatively impacting their social and family life. Further, test anxiety sometimes can and does affect appetite. This negative impact can affect a student’s health and well being. Students also can be negatively impacted in the area of health from lack of rest due to anxiety or “over studying” to prepare for the upcoming test.

Another negative impact of test anxiety can be a lack of tolerance of others or other things going on around them. A student that might normally find “odd things” around them funny might now find them irritating and irrational. The student may even find these things actually maddening and cause further anxiety as they take their focus off of the upcoming test. Students with severe test anxiety might find themselves so consumed by the upcoming test that they totally take their eyes off of all other parts of their lives. In this context of anxiety, a student can potentially put themselves or others in danger.

Additionally, in severe cases of test anxiety, a student can become so entranced by the upcoming test that they actually become depressed and unable to positively interact in their “normal” world. Test anxiety can also cause the student to underperform on the actual test because they are so afraid of making a crucial mistake. Just the pressure of taking the test they have prepared for can actually cause them to shut down under the pressure of taking the test.

Strategies to Address Test Anxiety

While there are many ways to battle test anxiety, the student must be willing to make a plan and stick with it all the way through the testing date. Of course, if test anxiety strategies are not working, the student, or in some instances the teacher, must be willing to alter the course of action to keep anxiety at a minimum. Students should also embrace some of the anxiety and use it to their benefit. The students’ attitude needs to be one of, “I am feeling anxiety because this is important to me and my future.”  Here are a few ideas for students on how to overcome test anxiety.

  • Look ahead at what is coming and, while calm, make a plan for success
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle including eating properly, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly
  • Work hard in your classes that are tested and keep yourself abreast of the curriculum information
  • Learn the material and don’t count on “cramming” just before the test
  • Ask frequent questions to clarify conceptual information. The more you understand the overall concepts, the more you will be prepared for testing
  • Continue to enjoy the parts of your life that are outside of school AND test preparation. Continue to interact with friends and family. Allow yourself downtime away from school work.
  • Utilize outside resources to gain other valuable information about the course work
  • Take seriously “practice tests” and use them as a tool to work on areas you are deficient in and enjoy seeing proficiency in some areas
  • Work in small groups of students preparing for the same test. There is strength in numbers of like-minded people.
  • Find positive ways unique to you that reduce your anxiety and implement them, and modify or eliminate any strategies that are not working for you

As long as there are tests of any kind, there is going to be some test taking anxiety. It is important to use the anxiety one feels as an asset and not a negative. Students and all stakeholders in the students’ lives feel the anxiety of high-stakes testing and should all work together to help the students have a positive experience through the process. Students should express their anxiety to teachers, family, and friends and be willing to ask for understanding and support.

Education and especially testing are now a part of a student’s educational life, and we must all pull together to help our students prepare and succeed in these stressful times. Test anxiety tips such as frequent encouragement and positive reinforcement from all stakeholders can be extremely beneficial in the lives of our students. We must always remember to help them especially in the area of upcoming high-stakes testing. We all have an impact on our children, so in this area let’s make sure our impact is low stress and beneficial. Our kids are counting on us; let’s be there for them.

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