Assisting Students to Overcome Test Anxiety

Written By: Mary M. Alward
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Every human copes with anxiety at one time or another. It is a basic emotion that we feel when something is perceived as a threat. Anxiety is a valuable tool, which humans use to avoid danger. However, anxiety can be a negative emotion when taken to extremes.

Many students feel threatened when they have to write exams and tests. They fear they will not do well, which results in a high anxiety level. This can result in failure, underachievement and psychological stress. Even if the student has superior knowledge of the subject, he may perform poorly because of a high test anxiety level. This can cause an inability to succeed in vocational and educational opportunities.


Test anxiety is made up of three major factors: affective, behavioral and cognitive.


This is when the student experiences a physiological reaction such as nausea, dry mouth, frequent urination, cold hands, muscle spasms, increased perspiration or an increased heart rate. These symptoms often appear hours before the test begins and continues during the test and for hours afterward. Panic, fear and worry may also be present. Students are unable to control these symptoms or their emotions, which contributes to an even greater stress level. When this occurs, students find it very difficult to concentrate.

Students who experience test anxiety are inefficient when it comes to studying. They procrastinate and then when they try to cram for the test they cannot concentrate. This is largely due to the fact that they have trouble deciphering information and organizing it into understandable blocks. Other factors include diet, physical exhaustion due to poor sleep habits and lack of physical exercise.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Parents, school counselors, teachers and school administrators can assist students in managing test anxiety.


Parents can help students overcome test anxiety by:

Assuring that their children attend school on a regular basis.

Encouraging children to give their best effort in all that they do.

Creating a home schedule that assures children maintain good sleeping habits.

Evaluating children's test scores over the entire semester instead of looking at each single test score.

Encouraging children to use breathing exercises when they experience test anxiety.

Assuring their children avoid comparing themselves to other students.

Assuring children have a healthy diet.

Communicating with the school and the child's teacher.

Assuring children get lots of exercise and have fun.

Assuring that children wear comfortable clothing on test days.


Teachers can assist students by:

Teaching students strategies for taking tests and exams.

Being aware of a student's capabilities and their development level.

Being aware of pressure placed on students prior to tests and exams.

Explaining how the test will be marked so students are aware of penalties for incorrect answers.

Making students aware of how they can earn extra marks.

Meeting with parents of students who experience test anxiety.

Referring students who experience test anxiety to school counselors.


Administrators can assist students in overcoming stress anxiety by:

Building a good relationship with students, parents and teachers.

Developing a school policy for standardized testing.

Implementing practice tests for students who suffer from test anxiety.

School Counselors

School counselors can assist students in overcoming test anxiety by:

Teaching on test anxiety during guidance class time.

Teaching study skills.

Teaching test-taking strategies.

Teaching relaxation techniques.

Offering guidance for parents of students who experience test anxiety.

Meeting with students who experience test anxiety on a one-on-one basis.

Encouraging students who have overcome test anxiety to speak to students who are experiencing it and support them.

Recognizing when test anxiety escalates out of control.

Recognizing more serious anxiety-related issues.

Test anxiety impacts students from all walks of life, from every ethnic background and from every grade level. It's imperative that parents, teachers, school administrators and counselors recognize the signs of test anxiety and work together to see that each and every student is guided through the process of reducing test anxiety and stress to ensure academic success, which is every student's right.

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