What Causes Test Anxiety?

The Potential Causes of Test Anxiety

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While test anxiety can be very stressful for students who suffer from it, many people do not realize that is actually quite common. Nervousness and anxiety are perfectly normal reactions to stress. For some people, however, this fear can become so intense that it actually interferes with their ability to perform well on a test.

So what causes test anxiety? For many students, it can be a combination of things.

Bad study habits, poor past test performance and underlying anxiety problems can all contribute to test anxiety.

Biological Causes of Test Anxiety

In stressful situations, such as before and during an exam, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This helps prepare the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response. Essentially, this response prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or escape the situation entirely. In a lot of cases, this adrenaline rush is actually a good thing. It helps prepare you to deal effectively with stressful situations, ensuring that you are alert and ready.

For some people, however, the symptoms of anxiety they feel can become so excessive that it makes it difficult or even impossible to focus on the test. Symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking hands can actually make people feel even more nervous, especially if they become preoccupied with test anxiety symptoms.

Mental Causes of Test Anxiety

In addition to the underlying biological causes on anxiety, there are many mental factors that can play a role in test anxiety. Student expectations are one major mental factor. For example, if a student believes that she will perform poorly on an exam, she is far more likely to become anxious before and during a test.

Test anxiety can also become a vicious cycle. After experiencing anxiety during one exam, students may become so fearful about it happening again that they actually become even more anxious during the next exam. After repeatedly enduring test anxiety, students may begin to feel helpless to change their situation.

So what exactly can you do to prevent or minimize test anxiety? Check out the following resources for tips on how to cope with this all-too-common problem:


What causes test anxiety? University of Alabama Center for Teaching and Learning. Found online at http://www.ctl.ua.edu/CTLStudyAids/StudySkillsFlyers/TestPreparation/whatcausestestanxiety.htm

Test anxiety. Kids Health. Found online at http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/school/test_anxiety.html#a_What_Causes_It_

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