Test Anxiety

Don’t let test anxiety interfere with your success at Rivier. The Counseling and Wellness Center can help you gain control over this challenge.

Tests are a normal, though often dreaded, part of the college experience. It is common to feel stressed or anxious when preparing for or taking a test.

Most students get nervous during testing, but some students experience test anxiety at a level that is physically distressing and interferes with performance. Test anxiety symptoms can range from minor annoyances, such as forgetting a common formula, to overwhelming and debilitating fears.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

If you experience some of the following symptoms while test-taking, you might be struggling with test anxiety.


  • Overwhelming fear or panic
  • Nervous worrying
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Pervasive negativism
  • Feeling of impending doom


  • I’m so stupid
  • I’m going to fail
  • This is hopeless
  • Why should I even try?
  • I just can’t do (this subject)
  • I have to get out of here

Physical Experiences

  • Increased sweating
  • Pounding heart
  • Headaches
  • Shakiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tightness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

Cognitive/Behavior Patterns

  • Mind goes blank or freezes up
  • Distractibility; poor concentration
  • Increased errors
  • Racing thoughts
  • Overthinking concepts & questions
  • Second-guessing/changing answers

What to Do if You Think You Have Test Anxiety

The sources of test anxiety are poor test preparation, ineffective test-taking strategies, psychological pressures, and poor health habits. Consider the extent to which each of these applies to you, and attempt to make the following changes.

Focus on Test Preparation

  • Clarify test formats and contents with your instructors
  • Know what your instructor expects
  • Ask questions
  • Review past assignments, quizzes, and textbook sample problems
  • Create a study guide and practice tests on exam topics
  • Collaborate with other students
  • Don’t cram; prioritize study time

Relieve Psychological Pressures

  • Arrive at the exam early and take time to relax before the test
  • Don’t discuss the exam with peers
  • Keep your test goals reasonable
  • Practice affirming statements like “I’m ready for this test; I can do this.”
  • Use a thought-stopping technique to manage distracting thoughts
  • Don’t let the test define personal worth

Use Effective Test-Taking Strategies

  • Learn basic test-taking strategies for various test formats (multiple choice vs. essay tests)
  • Read test directions thoroughly
  • Do a “mind dump” when you first receive the test: write down any formulas or facts you are afraid you might forget
  • Take one question at a time; don’t focus on the entire test all at once
  • Don’t rush; pace yourself to time limits
  • Don’t dwell on questions you can’t answer; mark them, skip them, and return to them later
  • Avoid observing others’ test-taking behavior; don’t engage in self-comparison

Practice Health Behaviors

  • Plan and manage your study time well, and get plenty of sleep during the nights preceding your exams
  • Eat a healthy meal before each exam
  • Practice deep breathing techniques regularly so you can access these skills at exam time
  • Avoid excessive use of caffeine, including energy drinks
  • Exercise regularly
  • Take mental breaks and have some fun—this will actually improve your academic performance!


Counseling and Wellness Center