A Guide to Dealing with College and Test Anxiety

A Guide to Dealing with College and Test Anxiety
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About Test Anxiety Symptoms

All students can experience being unprepared for a test due to poor time management, lack of study skills and insufficient preparation with test material. Students that are unprepared for a test will experience much anxiety before, during and after a test in the forms of sweaty palms, dry mouth, fear and sleepiness. During the actual test, students will “blank” out mentally, be unfocused and feel like there is not enough time.This form of test anxiety is very common and happens to most students at least once in the course of their entire college career.

On the other hand, there is another form of test anxiety that involves physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms that occur even when a student has sufficiently prepared for a test. Like the first type, these set of symptoms also occur before, during and after a test.To deal with college students and test anxiety, many colleges have learning centers on-campus that can diagnose this more serious form of test anxiety.One such instrument is a brief questionnaire called the Test Anxiety Questionnaire developed in 1990 by Shierrie Nist and William Diehl.Some of the common symptoms that this questionnaire and others like it test for are—


- Rapid heartbeat

- Sweaty palms

- Upset stomach

- Insomnia

Mental / Emotional / Behavioral

- Mental “muddiness” (inability to focus or concentrate)

- Frustrate easily

- Irritableness

- Quick-temperedness

- Depression

Tips for Overcoming Test Anxiety

Once discovered, students with test anxiety should realize that it is possible to overcome both forms of test anxiety with support and practice of techniques. While overcoming the basic form of test anxiety (lack of preparedness) is possible with a more test preparation, overcoming the more serious form of anxiety (physical, emotional symptoms, etc.) requires a more comprehensive approach. Overcoming the more serious form of test anxiety involves coming up with a series of workable strategies that can help alleviate the physical, mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms associated with the anxiety. Specific strategies include –

Physical symptoms (to overcome sweaty palms, tiredness, stomach pains)

- Getting enough sleep

- Staying hydrated

- Practice breathing techniques to relax and minimize nervousness

- Wear well-ventilated clothing to avoid overheating

- Eat light meals before testing

Mental (to overcome lack of focus and inability to concentrate)

- Prepare adequately for any test; start in advance

- Study every day with one-day rest or light study before the test.

- Practice visualization

- Repeat positive affirmations about succeeding

Emotional (to overcome nervousness, fear, frustration)

- Becoming familiar with the testing environment (location, format of the test, etc)

- Focus and don’t get distracted by others during test time

- Don’t stand around talking about the test before or after the test

Points to Remember

While every college student may experience normal test anxiety from lack of test preparedness at some point in their academic career, the more serious form of test anxiety has physical, mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms. There are tests that can be used to confirm serious symptoms of test anxiety. Successfully coping with test anxiety requires help and support from qualified staff. For students who suffer from the symptoms of anxiety, help can be obtained from dedicated departments to help students identify and understand their symptoms. Knowledgeable staff can help students not only alleviate their symptoms but be successful in their academic courses.


Nist and Diehl (1990), Test Anxiety Questionnaire -


Pennsylvania State University’s Learning Center - Test taking and test anxiety


University of Alabama’s Center for Teaching and Learning - Dealing with Test Anxiety -


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