A guide on test anxiety

Written by: Hannah Forsythe

At some point or another, we have all experienced test anxiety. Whether it be for a final exam in your eleventh grade history class or the dreaded ACT, everyone has experienced some sort of anxiety due to testing. But what is it? How do you control it? I, myself, am a teenager who's struggled for years with test anxiety. Thankfully, I've learned how to manage it. Though it may not be completely gone and still haunts me every now and then, I have learned to manage it a bit. So, in honor of mental health awareness week, I will give you a quick lesson on what test anxiety is, the symptoms (and how to notice them), and tips to survive it.

What Test Anxiety is

In a nutshell, test anxiety is a form of anxiety that is induced by the knowledge or taking of a test. According to VeryWell Mind, it is "a psychological condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations."

The Causes

Test anxiety is a performance based anxiety. The person knows that their performance matters which leads to overthinking, pressure, and anxiety. Though it is typically seen with just test taking, it can be applied to many scenarios. Such as a championship baseball game, a dance recital, playing sports while a recruiter is there. You may see your test anxiety start to flare up if you know you haven't been studying or you've been getting bad grades or scores on tests.


Test anxiety can include the following:

  • Butterflies in your stomach

  • Shaking/ tapping, basically nervous ticks

  • Sweating

  • An increased heartbeat

  • Blanking on test answers

  • Possible use of drugs/alcohol to avoid test taking

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Sense of hopelessness

  • Low self-esteem

In no way, shape, or form am I a licenced medical professional. These are just symptoms that I've experienced or those close to me have.

Tips to manage it

1. Practice, practice, practice.

Personally, I don't have the most amazing ACT score. But, I've started to learn that when you practice taking the test, the anxiety starts to fade away. Start aside time to do a mock ACT/SAT test. I guarantee that you will get so used to taking the test that anxiety will be a thing of the past.

2. Talk to someone.

I have a close friend, he's someone I consider to be like a brother to me and I trust almost everything he says. He had gotten a 30 on his ACT and got into his dream school. I talked to him about my struggles and doing that eased my fears about taking the test. Talking to a close friend, sibling, parent is a good way to ease the fear a bit.

3. Learn relaxation techniques.

This is something my former therapist actually taught me! If you feel a surge of anxiety start to come on, try some of these techniques.

  • 5 senses description: Start by first noticing three things for each sense, then two, and then one. This isn't the best technique for timed tests like the ACT, but I find it very useful for when I might be in school and feel bad thoughts creeping in.

  • Breathing: take a deep breath in for six seconds, hold it for four, release for six. This slows your heart rate down. You can also multitask while doing this, while reading your question, breathe in. Think about the answer, let it out. For the ACT, I'd suggest doing this technique at least three times before you start each section. It'll calm your nerves and let you prepare for the next section.

  • Tensing and relaxing: tense up a certain part of your body, hold for five seconds, and release. For me, this is a way of letting out the anxious jitters I tend to get before, during, and even after the test. It's a way to fidget without distracting your peers.

4. Think logically.

I definitely know how hard it is to think logically once test anxiety creeps in. It's almost impossible to think and if you can think, your thoughts are everywhere. Thinking logically and practically is going to take some practice, it's not something you can learn overnight. Just remember, if you prepared for the test, you're going to be ok. If you didn't prepare as much as you wanted to, admit it to yourself and use that test as a baseline. "I didn't study enough for this ACT and got a 20. If I study twice as hard next time, I could raise it two points."

5. Be organized.

I am a very organized and routine based person. I like to have everything planned out in advance so I know what to expect. You can only know so much about your test, though. So, be organized. Know what you will be seeing on the test, know what to bring, know how long the test will take. For me, this just puts my mind at ease and lets me relax a bit.

At the end of the day, whatever test you are taking does not define you. Getting a 30 on the ACT or a 1520 on the SAT is not the "end all be all." In 10 years, it will not matter anymore. Your future employer will not be asking about your high school ACT score. Remember that these techniques, symptoms and causes won't be the same for everyone. What might affect you may not affect someone else.

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