Test anxiety: A student’s worst nightmare


Olivia Hannigan

Students everywhere suffer from test anxiety.

Students walk into their classrooms, wringing their hands on their backpack straps or inside their hoodie pockets as they see the papers placed on the desks. They run the material through their heads, completely confident that they know what they’re doing, confident that they can ace this test with no problem. They sit down and read the first question, their mind going completely blank. 

Oh NO! 

This experience is called test anxiety, and more students have it than you may think. Test anxiety is when people read over the material, go to extra study sessions and study at every given moment, taking thorough notes in class and asking friends and peers for help, but completely blanking when there’s an exam in front of them. This may seem familiar, and that makes it seem completely hopeless.

Test anxiety takes form in many different ways. At it’s best, students can only feel butterflies in their stomach or maybe their hands will get a little clammy or maybe they’ll start shaking. At its worst, students can feel extreme nausea, have trouble breathing, or even be thrown into full-on panic attacks. 

There are horror stories whispered down the hallways of every school building, tales of students breaking down in tears or simply just putting their heads down for the entire test, unable to find the energy to even lift their head out of their arms. It’s possible that these students are feeling this ailment. 

Test anxiety isn’t harmless, and many students who feel this have the crippling fear of failure. If you’re a perfectionist, like I am, you want all your grades to be in the high nineties, and a low eighty feels like a failure. 

“I don’t perform as well as I want to. Later when I see what was on the test when I have a clear mind that’s when it clicks for me,” Sophomore Julia Fredericks says. 

Cycle of stress and failure that drives a lot of people away from their best. Some of the lasting symptoms of frequent test anxiety are depression, anger, and low-self esteem. As everyone knows, these feelings can affect anyone who has them often enough. They can change the way someone views themselves and their own intellect. 

“Why aren’t people doing anything about this?”

How can you prevent it? Mind over matter isn’t always easy, especially when it’s the mind that’s causing the problem. Teachers can’t exactly completely veto tests- they’re necessary tools in the school environment to see where each student is in the lesson and how much they understand. 

Here’s how to prevent or stop this anxiety once it starts:

  • Make sure you’re prepared – Start studying once the unit is started so you don’t have to cram it all into one night. If you have problems understanding the material, ask the teacher or a friend who is or has been in the same class
  • Think positively – Don’t drag yourself down with negative thoughts. It might be hard, but it’s necessary. 
  • Getting enough sleep – As cliche as it sounds, it does work. 
  • Eat breakfast! – Just as hackneyed as getting enough sleep, breakfast also decides on how well or how poor you do on an exam!
  • Take deep breaths – If your anxiety gets the best of you during an exam, take a minute or two to take a few breaths. It also helps to try to bring a familiar song or song lyric and repeat it in your head until you feel yourself calm down.

If none of these work for you, I would suggest a trick that my seventh grade English teacher taught me. When I was in my first year of middle school, I struggled with anxiety about tests and failing said tests. I would study for hours only to absolutely bomb an English vocabulary quiz or Life Science test, and this was clearly starting to affect me. One day, my English teacher pulled me aside and, to my surprise, gave me a rock. That’s it, just a rock. 

She told me that if I ever feel anxious during anything to hold the rock in my hands and turn it over, to create a story about where this rock had been. Was it in the middle of a forest in Scandinavia, being tossed around by young children centuries before? Was it in a river, flowing downstream until it was picked up and placed in someone’s pocket, where they forgot about it? Was it a part of a building? Going in loops of questions helps keep the mind distracted. It’s very therapeutic and works really well, so try it out! (Thanks, Mrs. Poley!)

Don’t let your mind get the best of you! It may seem like the end of the world to do poorly on a test or not get an answer or two, but everything will turn out fine!