Powerful techniques to optimize your emotions, beliefs, and behaviors

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a common form of "performance anxiety" that interferes with test taking and affects the performance of many students. Performance anxiety is also witnessed in social anxiety, sexual performance, and public speaking. With test anxiety we're fearful of failing and the consequences of failing. For many the consequences are the loss of the respect and acceptance of others. Also all-or-nothing thinking may be partly involved. Someone may believe their achievements must be outstanding or they themselves are worthless. You can imagine the level of anxiety this creates. Persons, terrified by tests, may procrastinate on studying to avoid the anxiety.

Solutions for test taking anxiety can arrive in many forms which may include developing learning skills, relaxation training, and avoiding all night cramming. Other proven measures are the use of exposure therapy for desensitizing typical test anxiety triggers like confusion, going blank, memory impairment, and hyperventilation.

The anxiety symptoms listed below can be targets for exposure & desensitization. Simply recreate these symptoms through doing event/memory reviews (the Emotional Writing Process & the Emo Reviewer). Go over and over these targets until they no longer stimulate anxiety and overwhelm. The symptoms also weaken during relaxation exercises and flight/fight blocking exercises.


Rapid Breathing?
Experience tingling & numbness?
Feeling like you're back from your body?
Going blank?
Freezing up?
Trouble focusing on words?
Obsessing about the future?
Sweaty palms?
Tight or dry throat?
Stomach butterflies?
Being disoriented?
Temporary memory loss?


Remember that anxiety can be desensitized through steadily feeling it until it diminishes.

Another winner is using vagus nerve based relaxation techniques such as the Dive Reflex Maneuver, the Longevity Maneuver, or the Belly Breathing/Hand Warming technique (Coming soon) prior to taking a test.  These are very potent anti-anxiety measures that quell test taking anxiety and get someone off on calm and focused footing during the early parts of test.

Some possible causes of "test anxiety" may be located in the answers to these questions:


Do you anticipate that either you or others will not be able to accept you because of your test scores?

Do you picture yourself not being able to perform on your test up to your actual ability?

Do you in anyway compare yourself to others taking this test? Are you concerned about scoring less than others? Looking like a dummy?

Is your job future at stake in this test? Can you advance or even lose your job based on performance? What would this mean about you?

Have you ever failed an important test and did it leave you with residual evaluations about yourself and your ability to take tests?

Do you fear failure and how it may make you harshly judge yourself?

Do you feel pressured or hurried in anyway?

Will you still be liked or loved by important others regardless of what happens with this test?

Could you stand failing this test?

What's the absolute worst thing that can happen to you from failing this test? Is there anything worse than that?

What if you were to succeed on this test? Would it put you in a new position to take on more responsibilities? Do you have any thoughts or feelings about that?

Do you ever get irritated or angry about being anxious about taking tests?

Do you believe you SHOULD not be anxious about tests?

What's the worst possible thing that can happen if you freeze and flub? Would you survive?

Do you ever feel guilty or ashamed about being anxious or fearful about tests?

Does being confused ramp up your anxiety even more?

Are you well prepared for this test? Study habits up to snuff? Good time management? Problems with cramming or not getting enough sleep?

Concerns about finishing the test on time?

Do you believe you will fail anyway--so what's the use?

Do you worry, worry, worry before the test?

Are you very distracted by sights and sounds? 

Are you distracted by foot jiggling and finger tapping?

Do you think your parents will go crazy if you fail?

Worries about a perfect performance?

Memories about poor performance on previous examinations?

Do you have any learning disabilities and does that make you anxious?

Fear of loss of respect from teachers, friends, classmates, parents?

Do you obsess about what could go wrong on the test?

Do you currently believe you won't be able to stand physical symptoms of anxiety? (Breathing, loss of focus, forgetting, shaking, palm sweats, butterflies, panic, insomnia)

Anxious about mastering specific subject?

Persons who fight with test anxiety worry very much before they take a test. This worry may have overwhelming feelings beneath it.

A test taker's "What if questions":


"What if I get so incredibly nervous and tense I can't think straight or write a sentence that makes no sense?

"What if my brain stalls and I go blank?"

"What if I get everything wrong?"

Some everyday solutions for lighter forms of test anxiety:

*Good test preparation and study can minimize anxiety. This means no cramming a semester's work into a late night cram session. Focus on mastering the main concepts of what you are required to learn. Go over your underlined notes, lectures, and texts. Practice question and answer sessions with friends.

*Avoid putting your self under pressure and a perfectionistic gun. Expect that you will likely perform well if you study well.
The test is one of hundreds you will face.

*Make sure you eat well, sleep well, and exercise during the days leading up to the test. This in itself can limit anxiety.

*Avoid caffeine and its potential for stirring up anxiety symptoms.

*Take a seat in the test area where you will face the least amount of noise and distraction.

*Practice some simple relaxation exercises prior to taking the test.  The Dive Reflex, the Longevity Maneuver, or the Belly Breathing/Hand Warming technique.

*Review the test and its directions. Read the directions over carefully. If you are facing essay questions, choose the easiest first if possible. Create a brief outline or summarizing sentence. This will keep you focused. Avoid rambling and repetition--keep everything short and to the point.

*Recheck your answers only if you are finished. With multiple-choice questions read through all the questions and choose the most fitting if you are unsure.

*Drink water as this helps with your alertness and being calm.

*Never go to exam on an empty stomach.  Eat an easy to digest protein meal before the test so you are sharp and alert.

*Test taking books exist about how to take certain kinds of tests. They can help your speed and accuracy in taking tests. You can find them at most major bookstores.

*If a teacher or proctor is present, consider asking them a question. This talking helps distract from anxiety.

*Read the directions until they compute with you. If you don't understand the test directions on the test, talk to the teacher.
*Jot down any facts in the margins of the paper to make for easier recall later during the test.

*If you are distracted by someone trying to cheat off your test, growl at them or kick their foot. 

*Do the simple questions first, and then move to the harder.

*The Creator can be used to envision a positive test outcome. 

*Focus on your test not other people finishing their tests and leaving.

If you are bothered that other students might be staring at you during tests and judging you, then head off this "mind reading distortion" before it happens.  If you believe the other person is staring at you (Even if they're not) you may be caught up in mind reading or jumping to conclusions that the other person is staring at you.  What might this other student be thinking? If you answer that question, then you're involved in the common distortion mind reading.

What may be test anxiety provoking is your believing the other person has negative judgments about you. Ask yourself these questions may reduce your mind reading:


Is what you believe they're thinking something they actually told you? Or is it something you're assuming?
How do you specifically know he or she thinks this way?
Is it possible what you believe they're thinking may be your own thoughts and not his/hers?
Has someone ever judged you or stared at you in the past?
Describe in specifics what you believe they believe.
Have you ever been wrong at mind reading before?
What's the evidence for and against reading another's mind?
If the loss of approval is involved, how do you know they disapprove you?
How might you feel differently if you didn't practice mind reading?

If the mind reading is processed, the attention problems and anxiety may go away.

If not, keep bringing your attention back to the test and practice taking tests imaginally with others present until your anxiety desensitizes. Recalling past tests, where you had this difficulty, can help. The Emo Reviewer can be used to recall past tests and desensitize them.

Another source of anxiety during tests is the "self-pressure" Personality Cluster. These thoughts can be challenged and changed so you will feel less hurried and under the gun:


Self-Pressure: This cluster of beliefs is an energy and focus sapping form of self-intolerance that creates a sense of being compelled and hurried with little or no time. There is what really has to be done and there is the added filter of self-pressuring beliefs. Typical beliefs are:

I have no choice--I must hurry and get this done.
I've got to do this all at once.
My task feels like an impossible mountain climb.
I can't stand rushing, but I have to.
My task must be done perfectly and an hour ago!
There's never enough time--I must rush.
This is totally impossible--I'll never get it done.
I've just got done and now there's even more.
The deadline is now--I feel totally inadequate.
Hurry, hurry, hurry--there's no time left.
All of that--phew!
I'm always slow--I'll never get it right or finish on time.
The time is squeezing me.
I keep making mistakes and they're mounting up.

I have no time left.

The Avoided Emotion Finder can help ratchet down the thermostat on anxiety and produce less of it come test time.  This method can be used on avoided emotions.  The more you avoid emotions, the more anxious you will be.

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