Experiencing some test anxiety is pretty typical. In fact, some would argue that having a small level of anxiety helps motivate you to study, stay alert during the test, and focus on the task at hand. That being said, high levels of anxiety can interfere with your concentration and ability to perform well on tests. The distinction between the two is captured in the diagram below (from UTAustin) illustrating the difference between facilitative and debilitating test anxiety. Levels of test anxiety differ from person to person; they also differ from subject to subject, and test to test, depending on the value you place on the test and your belief in your ability to do well.

According to Mann & Lash (2004), anxiety is a natural human response, indicative of our fight-or-flight defense mechanism. In a testing situation, you may experience a number of anxiety symptoms in response to the perceived threat of the exam. Unlike the gazelle on the prairie trying to evade being dinner for the puma, extreme anxiety may not enhance performance, but detract from it.

There are different types of anxiety you might experience during a test. Physiological anxiety appears as a high heart rate, excessive sweating, tension, or nausea. Cognitive anxiety appears as difficulty concentrating or focusing on questions, being easily distracted by other things/people in the room, and the feeling of “go blank” during the test and not remembering what you studied.  Emotional anxiety symptoms can be negative thoughts; feelings of fear, anger, and helplessness; or uncontrollable laughing or crying (Mann & Lash, 2004).

See Managing Test Anxiety to learn about techniques you can use to work with and/or lessen your anxiety during tests.

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