testing anxietyYour head is pounding, hands are shaking, and perhaps your stomach is in knots… is it the flu???  Nope! I’m going to guess you are about to take a test and you have gone completely blank on the answers and are now freaking out.  Breathe deeply, friends, and read on to find out exactly what is happening to you. 

What is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety is like normal stress about taking a test, but supercharged.  If test anxiety were a Marvel character, it would be Bruce Banner/the Hulk.  It is completely normal to feel nervous or a little stress over taking a test, especially bigger ones like the ACT or SAT.  Normal stress veers over into Hulk mode when the thought of taking the test becomes paralyzing, causing physical and/or emotional symptoms that are very unpleasant, uncomfortable, and scary. 


What Test Anxiety Can Feel Like

Test anxiety can show up in a variety of ways and it can affect people differently.  Physical symptoms can include stomach ache, headaches, sweating, shaking or feeing like your heart is going to pound right out of your chest.  Test anxiety can ride the emotional rollercoaster with the best of them. You can run from feeling happy and confident as you walk into the classroom to sad and angry as you realize all your studying was worthless because you couldn’t recall the answers.  Top it off with feelings of fear, defeat and “I can’t do anything right” as you think about your grades and what your parents will say. The good news is that you can put the brakes on the rollercoaster. 


A test does not define me or my abilities or my self-worth.  I am not a failure as a human if I don’t do well on a test. My parents still love me even if I don’t do well on a test.  I still love me if I’m not perfect.

Repeat that. 


How to Handle the Anxiety

So, there are several ways to calm down the Hulk that is test anxiety.  Sometimes it takes a few tries – if one strategy doesn’t work, then try another.

  •     Deep Breathing – Some people roll their eyes at this one, but for others, it really works.  Inhale through your nose as deeply as you can, hold for 4 counts and then blow it out through your mouth for 4 counts.  Repeat until calm and focused.
  •   Go To Your Happy Place – Developing a serene and calm scene in your mind that you can retreat to when you’re freaking out can help calm you down because it distracts you from what is causing the anxiety (just don’t forget about the test). 
  •    Do the 54321 exercise – another distraction strategy.  In your head, name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.  This refocuses your brain on real things in front of you.
  •   Remind yourself what is actually happening – the majority of test anxiety comes from “what-ifs” you have created in your brain…Remind yourself of the FACTS of your current situation: you studied, you are able, etc. and what your body is doing is reacting to what-ifs, not facts.
  •     Be prepared – this goes without saying.  Studying for a reasonable amount of time for a test gives you a sense of control over the situation.  Don’t wait until the last minute. 
  •   Get enough sleep, attempt to eat reasonable food and get moving.  Sometimes a good work out or sports practice can knock the stress and anxiety right out of you. 

Try some of these and see how you feel.  If the testing anxiety continues to get worse or the anxiety starts to invade other areas of your life, you may need to talk to your parents, the school counselor, or a good friend.  There is NO SHAME in getting help!!

Jessica Bender, M.A., is an LPCa with May River Counseling, LLC.  www.mayrivercounseling.com