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When preparing for or considering a test , some students feel distress physically, such as headaches, nausea, faintness, feeling too hot or cold, etc. Others express more emotion, wanting to cry or laugh too much, or feelings angry or helpless. The major problem of test anxiety is usually its effect on your thinking ability; it can cause you to blank out or have racing thoughts that are difficult to control. Although many, if not the vast majority, of students feel some level of anxiety when taking exams, most can cope with that anxiety and bring it down to a manageable level.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety
While some amount of anxiety and stress in life is unavoidable, too much anxiety or stress can cause uncomfortable symptoms that impede performance and quality of life.

*Changes in eating and sleeping

*Increased use of alcohol or other drugs, in an attempt to manage anxiety

*Increased fatigue or a sense of the “blahs”

*Problems making decisions or increased procrastination

*Excessive fear or worry

*Feeling so restless it is difficult to sit still

*Feeling nervous, tense, or “on edge”

*Trouble relaxing

*Inability to concentrate or pay attention

*Anxiety/Panic attacks, which may include profuse sweating, fearfulness, tightness in chest, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, increased heart rate

*Increased irritability

*Overpowering urges to cry, hide, or run

*Physical symptoms such as pain or stomach issues

*If you would like to speak directly with a Counselor about anxiety, contact the Office of Counseling Services.

 Steps to Manage Stress and Anxiety

  1. Assess your current lifestyle patterns. Some questions to ask yourself include: Am I overwhelmed? Am I under-challenged? Am I engaging in enjoyable activities? Am I avoiding dealing with necessary problems?
  2. Learn to identify and experience your emotions.
  3. Assess your thought patterns. Replace negative thoughts with more positive and realistic beliefs.
  4. Attend to any physical cues in your body. Ask yourself, “Where in my body to I feel stress?”
  5. Eat balanced meals and get regular exercise.
  6. Face your fears and deal proactively with your problems. Questions to ask include: In what areas of my life do I seem to always have problems? How do I deal with these problems?
  7. Find meaning in your life. Ask yourself, “When do I come most alive?” and intentionally implement these times into your daily life schedule.
  8. Step outside yourself. Help a friend, look for volunteer opportunities, try something new…
  9. Have fun and play! Ask yourself, “What was it I enjoyed doing as a child?” Recapture the child inside of you.
  10. Relax and breathe. Practice deep breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, yoga… whatever works for you!
  11. Remember that stress is a natural part of life, and an inevitable aspect of all changes. Without some stress, action is impossible.
Anxiety and stress can also be reduced by being more assertive about our needs. Visit our Assertiveness Skills page to learn more.

For a list of helpful websites on anxiety, visit our Helpful Resources page.

If you’d like to learn more or get help with your anxiety or stress management, contact the Office of Counseling Services.

Ways to Manage Test Anxiety

  1. Be well prepared for the test.
  2. Include as much self-testing in your review as possible.
  3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle-get enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise, some personal down time, and a reasonable amount of social interaction.
  4. As you anticipate the exam, think positively, i.e., “I can do OK on this exam”. “I have studied and I know my stuff”.
  5. Do some serious “thought stopping” if you find that you are mentally comparing yourself to your peers or thinking about what your parents, partner, children, or other significant others may say about your performance on this exam.
  6. Before you go to bed on the night before the exam, make sure to collect together anything that you will need for the exam: pen, pencil, ruler, eraser, calculator, etc. Double check the time of the exam and the location.
  7. Set the alarm clock and then get a good night’s sleep before the exam.
  8. Get to the exam in plenty of time.
  9. Don’t talk to friends about the exam material just before going into the exam.
  10. Sit in a location in the exam room where you will be distracted as little as possible.
  11. As the test is being handed out, close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
  12. Make sure to read all instructions carefully.
  13. Focus only on the exam, not on what other students are doing.
  14. If you feel very anxious or even panicky in the test, take a few minutes time out and calm yourself down. Stretch your arms and legs and then relax them again. Take a few slow deep breaths. Do some positive internal self-talk. “I will be ok, I can do this”.
  15. If the exam is more difficult than you anticipated, try to focus and just do your best. It might be enough to get you through, even with a reasonable grade!
  16. When the exam is over, treat yourself.

If you feel you might be struggling with test anxiety, contact the Office of Counseling Services.

Content above is excerpted from SDC’s (2000) Learning skills Services: The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, N6A 3K7.