What Causes Test Anxiety, and Who Does it Affect?

what causes test anxiety

If you’re human, you probably get nervous before taking tests. But a healthy bit of apprehension can help you prepare properly, stay alert during the test, and feel as though you did your best.

People with test anxiety are more than a little nervous in test-taking situations. They might feel so much panic that they can barely remember their name, much less the material that they studied so diligently. But exam stress can manifest itself in less obvious ways. Maybe your hands won’t stop sweating on test day or you feel hopelessly inadequate about your grades.

Keep reading to learn whether you might have test anxiety. Identifying the problem allows you to access resources that can change your academic life around.

What Test Anxiety Feels Like in Your Body

Test anxiety is a combination of debilitating physical, emotional, or mental symptoms that can make it feel like you’ll never succeed at school. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you can never get ahead in classes that base the majority of your grade on exams.

You pay attention in class, take notes, turn in your assignments on time, and study for your exams. But on the day of the test, you can’t control your anxiety.

This might show up in your physical body. Do you get headaches, feel nauseous, or get lightheaded on exam days? Some people actually vomit or faint when they take a test (or leading up to it). Your heart might feel like it’s beating out your chest, you could have trouble breathing, or you may end up with a full-fledged panic attack.

No matter how intense or subtle the symptoms are, it’s hard for anyone to concentrate when they’re feeling sick. Test anxiety can make your physical symptoms so pronounced that you can’t focus on the task at hand.

Emotional Symptoms of Test Anxiety

The emotional and mental symptoms that pile up on top of the physical issues can make you feel out of control. Because these feelings might not match the traditional definition of anxiety, you may not realize that you struggle with this very real condition.

People with this kind of anxiety often explain that they just go blank during tests. This can go beyond simply forgetting the information. You may feel like your brain just doesn’t work. You might realize that don’t understand instructions, or that you have trouble remembering what you’re supposed to do.

Instead of recalling the information that you studied, your mind is preoccupied with negative thoughts. You might be consumed with fears of failing the exam. Many people with test anxiety can’t stop the voice in their head from saying things like, “You’re so stupid” or “You’re never going to do well in school.”

Some people feel better after turning in the test. But when all of the correct answers come flooding back to you ten minutes after you’ve left the exam room, you get frustrated and disappointed. You may fixate on your distress until your grade comes back. If you end up doing poorly, you beat yourself up or feel hopeless.

What Causes Test Anxiety

You’re not stupid. You’re not a poor student. You can overcome this battle.

It’s just that anxiety produces so much static in your brain that you can’t access the information that you’ve learned in class and during your study time. Anxiety impairs your working memory. You might do everything right, but you can’t help the fact that your brain doesn’t function properly when you’re under that much exam stress.

Anxiety can make it hard for you to achieve good grades in school. But less-than-stellar performance can put you right back in the anxiety cycle. If you don’t get help for your condition, you might keep getting low marks and feeling helpless.

Some of the causes of test anxiety include:

• A poor grade on a recent test – If you have received low marks in the past and have struggled with test taking, you may feel like you’re resigned to getting a big red F. Your body and mind become paralyzed with this fear, and you’re unable to function normally.
• Fear of failure/perfectionism – Society often delivers the message that your worth is tied to your accomplishments. Does your inner critic come out a lot surrounding your achievements and value? You might be dealing with test anxiety.
• Pressure – Perhaps you have pressure from your parents, teachers or coaches to excel in school. This puts constant tension on you and may prevent you from relaxing when taking tests.
• Rushing/not preparing – Students have a lot on their plates. You have a lot of assignments to juggle along with your extracurricular activities and social life. If you don’t prepare for a test, you might experience waves of panic when the room goes quiet and you stare at a page that means nothing to you.

Who Suffers from Test Anxiety?

Anyone can get test anxiety. It’s a type of performance anxiety that affects students of all ages. Think about the basketball player who freezes when it’s time to make a free throw. The same happens to people with this type of anxiety when they’re facing an exam.

Up to 20 percent of students have high levels of exam stress. Another 18 percent have moderate to high levels of this type of anxiety.

College students are under particular duress because they’re transitioning into the working world. They’re expected to take their independence into their own hands. Combined with that, they may not have the same kind of support and encouragement as they did in high school. Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health diagnosis among college students.

Have you hesitated to be evaluated because you fear that someone will just tell you to work harder? We understand that even the most prepared student can suffer from this distressing condition. At The Beverly Hills Therapy Group, we help the whole person, and treat all mental health disorders, including test anxiety. We can also provide an anxiety assessment that may qualify you for accommodations when you take exams.

Even if you don’t have generalized anxiety disorder, you may have this specialized type of test anxiety. There’s no shame in reaching out for an evaluation. With the right treatment and resources, you can tackle this nagging mental health issue for good.

For comments, questions, or to reach Ron N Gad, feel free to call (888) 494-7788

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