Negative thoughts, nausea, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, irritability, headaches, and panic attacks — these are all symptoms of test anxiety.
If you have ever experienced these symptoms, you are not alone. Test anxiety is an issue that impacts students far and wide.
Today, ASYSTEM is here with tips for overcoming test anxiety, new behaviors to adopt, and relaxation techniques to reduce high levels of discomfort and worry that can hold you back from performing at your best.
What Can Cause Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety can vary from person to person, and the causes can vary, too.
Although this can be different for everyone, let’s review some of the most common reasons someone may have anxiety and stress during a test. Gaining a better understanding of your test anxiety and where it stems from can leave you feeling more equipped to tackle it.
Have you ever had expectations that took you out of the present moment? Maybe focusing on the expectations caused you to miss important cues or prompts that ultimately would have served you well in that situation.
When we go into something with exceedingly high expectations, it can set us up for failure.
Maybe you feel overly confident, and this leads you to do less studying than you should for your upcoming exam.
Or maybe the opposite is true, and you are already psyching yourself out about the potential for failure. Fear of failure can be just as debilitating and may even lead to last minute cramming that interferes with adequate sleep. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe your fear of failure is so intense that it keeps you from studying at all.
Regardless of the type of expectation, these expectations can be a trap — and oftentimes unrealistic.
As you begin preparing for your next test, try to take a moment to look inward and identify what your expectations are.
When you study and prepare for an exam, it can be disheartening when the test that ends up in front of you is not quite what you expected.
Unfamiliar or unexpected test formatting can throw you off, making it more difficult to remain levelheaded. Unfamiliar formatting can be extremely intimidating and may cause anxiety and stress.
Have you ever had time to study but didn’t feel like it and never made it a priority? Maybe you have barely opened a book to review what may be on the exam, or maybe you forgot about the exam altogether.
Regardless of the circumstances, showing up for a test unprepared can cause immense anxiety when it is time to sit down for the exam.
If you are unprepared by choice, you may be full of regret when you see the test and realize you probably aren’t going to do well. Good study habits are crucial to avoiding intense fear and regret when the test comes along.
Maybe a study group is more your style, and scheduling a study session is in order. Find what works best for you to develop healthier habits and better study skills.
How Does Stress Impact Performance?
This topic has been studied for over a century. Back in 1908, there were two scientists who wanted to analyze how stress affects one’s performance. Robert Yerkes and John Dodson discovered that some level of stress during a performance was actually beneficial and showed that the person cared enough to focus and put the necessary effort into the situation.
However, if the stress levels rose too high, this stress was found to be counterproductive and caused students to perform poorly.
Simply put, stress is a normal part of everyday life, and we have the ability to process and handle bits and pieces at a time.
During test time, some stress can be seen as healthy pressure that forces us to expand our knowledge and wisdom in a particular area of focus. Healthy levels of stress provide the energy that allows us to deepen our capabilities and what we may think is possible.
That said, too much stress in any situation, especially during testing, can cause our memory and cognitive abilities to slow down and even freeze. We get so focused on the stress that we are unable to keep our focus on the task at hand.
How Can I Score Better Grades?
If you struggle with test anxiety, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Here are a few strategies that may help you overcome your stress.
Write It Out
One way to face the fear head-on is to write it out. What are the fears associated with test-taking? What do you feel in your body, mind, or spirit? What can you observe, without judgment, about the things that may arise?
Writing stream of consciousness entails putting pen to paper and simply writing whatever comes naturally without thinking too much about it. Write whatever is on your mind, as it comes to mind.
When we put our thoughts down on paper, it can become easier to process them and work through them. This can help you identify what may be causing any physical or emotional symptoms you are dealing with.
Be Aware of Different Stress Levels
Let’s refer back to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, where certain levels of stress can be motivational.
How do you know when your stress levels are motivating you or when they may be dragging you down? As an individual, only you can know this answer.
Reflecting on past stressful experiences may help show how you get inspired during times of pressure — or when the opposite may be true.
Test anxiety is a good opportunity to get to know your triggers. This way, you can face the fear head-on and not allow it to have so much power over you.
Get In The Zone
When a test is coming up, it is crucial to find the balance of the right amount of pressure to motivate you towards success.
As you prepare for your exam, combine strategies that you know work for you. Whether you use flashcards, study guides, or study groups, anything that works is something you can use to your advantage.
Before the test, practice positive self-talk and review your notes one last time to make sure you feel confident.
What Tools Can Aid With Test Anxiety?
Deep breathing, grounding, and sensing are simple yet powerful tools that can help relieve feelings of anxiety and stress. Let’s take a look at each one.
When we get stressed, our breathing may become shallow and rapid. This change in breathing patterns occurs when the nervous system enters fight or flight mode — which is survival mode.
Focusing on deep, belly breaths that bring the breath fully into your stomach, rather than your chest, can help you slow your breathing down and relax.
Practicing this for a few moments can help calm your body and mind during an exam. This type of mindful breathing can help distract you from your worries momentarily, giving you an opportunity to center yourself.
If the circumstances allow, you can even make a note at the top of your exam reminding you to breathe.
Deep breathing can help calm racing thoughts, slow your heart rate, and soothe some of the muscle tension that accompanies feeling of anxiety.
The symptoms of test anxiety can be overwhelming.
When we are experiencing stress on that level, we may forget the importance of our physical sensations.
Whether you are studying or already in the exam, feel the chair below you and notice how it is holding you up. Focus on letting all the tense energy in your body and mind go, letting it fall into the chair and into the floor to be dissolved.
This practice can help bring us back to the present moment, and right where we are, instead of getting lost in our heads.
Our ability to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell our surroundings can be used to our advantage during times of stress.
Use your senses to help your remain calm and relaxed during an exam. Take time to feel the pen or pencil in your hand, feel a piece of clothing on your body, or even apple a calming essential oil as perfume or cologne if you prefer to use your sense of smell.
You can even practice progressive muscle relaxation to calm some physical symptoms when you are having difficulty concentrating, or while you are waiting for the exams to be passed around.
When we enter a situation with confidence, we practice positive self-talk that can help set us up for success. Confidence can help you take your stress and anxiety and quickly turn it around, reminding yourself that you can handle whatever is thrown at you.
Being adequately prepared for your test can help you build that confidence, but if you struggle to feel confident even after you have prepared, practice positive affirmations in the days leading up to the exam.
Practice While You Study
During a study session, you can get into the habit of practicing techniques like breathing and grounding. See which tools you gravitate towards during your study time so that they come more naturally during your exam.
If you need a little extra help remaining calm during times of stress, ASYSTEM’s De-Stress Gummies can help. Our gummies feature Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Extract, and Lemon Balm Extract to help reduce tension, enhance cognitive function, and support your mood — the perfect recipe for good grades.
Alternatively, if your test anxiety is interfering with your sleep the night before the test, our Sleep Gummies can help you wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. With Melatonin, Chamomile Extract, and Passion Flower Extract, these gummies work to promote tiredness, calm the mind, and support sleep quality.
Our Sleep Gummies are also available in a Melatonin-Free variety if you are sensitive to this ingredient.
Test anxiety is a common issue among students, and if you struggle to stay calm during exams, you aren’t alone.
Making sure you study beforehand, getting together with a study group, and practicing relaxation techniques like grounding and breathing exercises can help you feel calmer when the test arrives.
On days when you need a little extra help feeling ready for the day ahead, ASYSTEM is here to support you with clinically-proven ingredients.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)
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