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Test Anxiety

A condition characterized by persistent anxiety in test situations that is severe enough to seriously interfere with performance.

Physical symptoms of test anxiety include a rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, sweating, stomach ache, dizziness, and desire to urinate. The anxiety interferes with concentration and memory, making it difficult or impossible to recall previously memorized material and resulting in test performance that does not accurately reflect a person's intelligence or the amount of effort spent preparing for the exam. Often, the memorized material is recalled once the test is over and the person leaves the test room.

People with text anxiety are usually conscientious students who work hard and have high expectations of themselves. The condition may begin with inadequate performance on a particular test, which then creates a general fear of the testing situation that hampers future performance, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and low scores. Very creative students may develop test anxiety when unorthodox responses to questions result in low grades that make them question their own abilities and intelligence. Test anxiety can interfere significantly with a person's academic accomplishment and impair confidence and self-esteem.

Sometimes teachers are willing to consider alternative testing procedures, such as oral exams instead of written tests. In some cases, test anxiety can be reduced or eliminated by having a person work on test-taking skills, such as strategies for answering different types of questions, and then hone them through practice testing (including timed testing if this is a source of apprehension). Both creating and taking practice tests can help defuse anxiety.

Other techniques that have been used to treat test anxiety include hypnotherapy and biofeedback. The beta blocker Inderal, taken on an as-needed basis, has helped some people overcome anxiety in test situations.

Further Reading

Erwin, Bette, and Elza Teresa Dinwiddie. Test Without Trauma: How to Overcome Test Anxiety and Score Higher on Every Test. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1983.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaDiseases, Disorders & Mental Conditions