Linda Lewis Griffith

Don’t be alarmed — this is only a test

A little worry is good before an exam. It helps focus your attention and motivates you to do your best.

But excessive worry and fear of failure interferes with performance. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, 16 to 20 percent of all students have high test anxiety, scoring 12 percentage points below their less anxious peers. And pressures are increasing alongside the national emphasis on standardized testing.

The problem begins as early as second-grade and continues throughout middle school and high school. Research shows that teenagers rate “schoolwork” and “exams” as the major source of worry and stress in their lives.

Psychological symptoms of test anxiety include blanking out, racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating. There may be persistent fretting about failure, past performances or how everyone else is doing.

Overly anxious students can also suffer from nausea, cramps, faintness and sweating. They may experience headaches or dry mouth.

Breathing and heart rate increase. Muscles become tense.

Fortunately, test anxiety is a learned behavior. With practice and determination you can teach yourself a better way to respond.



Be prepared. Learning the material is the best way to stave off worry. Know what will be on the test. Organize study time wisely.

Space out your studying. Don’t try to cram all the learning into one session. Spread it out over the days and weeks before the exam. You’ll have more time to absorb the subject matter. You’ll feel more relaxed in the process.

Exercise. Physical activity keeps your mind sharp and relieves stress. Schedule regular periods of exercise into your pre-test routine.

Get enough sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Wake up early enough to allow for a calm morning.

Have a healthy breakfast. Both your body and brain need fuel in order for you to do well on the exam.

Show up early. Rushing creates unnecessary stress. Arrive in time to find a good seat and get settled.


Read test directions slowly and carefully. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.

Skim through the entire test. See how it’s organized. Decide how best to allot your time.

Do the easy parts first. This boosts confidence and keeps you on task.

Skip difficult questions. You can always come back to them later.

Stay relaxed. If you start getting nervous, take a few deep breaths and shake out your hands.

Don’t look around. It doesn’t matter how others are doing. Stay focused on your own paper.

Use affirmations. Tell yourself that you’re doing your best. This is only one test. It doesn’t determine whether you are smart or successful in life.


Review how you did. What worked? What needs improvement? Make a plan for the next exam.

Celebrate your commitment to success. You’re doing everything you can to conquer your fear. Good for you!

Get professional help. Check out resources at your school or in the community if you still need help managing your test anxiety.