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Understanding Test Anxiety

UNC student in classroom.

October 16, 2018

Many of us may have experienced having test anxiety. One type of test anxiety stems from a student having less than effective time management and study skills.

Anxiety can usually be overcome through a student developing better skills that will improve their test taking abilities. Students with test anxiety will experience rushes of adrenaline before and throughout their test. Adrenaline blocks the brain from thinking and triggers a flight/fight response. 

What can you do to control adrenaline blocks? 

  • Physical activity can help burn off adrenaline
    Build in time to do a physical activity for at least 10 minutes before your exam. This physical activity can help the body process that chemical release of adrenaline you might be experiencing.
  • Start by answering only the questions you feel confident about 
    Your brain will recover from the adrenaline shot and you will be able to tackle the more complicated questions. You will also create confidence and a positive momentum for moving through the rest of the exam.
  • Prepare your body for battle
    Get a good night sleep and eat a proper meal. You’re asking your body and your brain to be in peak performance, you control the most important elements for making this happen.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar 
    Since these substances will naturally raise your state of alertness, which will look/feel like anxiety the day of a test.

Preparing for the Exam 

 Strategies for managing your test anxiety

Practicing the following strategies and techniques over a period of time will make it easier to achieve a state of relaxation. 

  • Visualization

    This is referring to creating a place in your mind that is free from stress. Envision yourself at a staircase reaching to the top.

  • Meditation

    Meditation is stopping all of your thoughts which will help you resume to your activites. You can do meditation before and after the exam. Simply close your eyes and breathe in slowly for several breaths.

  • Progressive Relaxation

    Tighten your hands into fists and simultaneously tense the muscles in your upper arms and shoulders. Hold
    for 10 seconds and relax for 15-20 seconds. Repeat until you can feel some physical release of your stress. Do
    this same exercise with tightening the muscles in your face, chest, legs, neck, back. You can do this exercise
    before the exam, working through all parts of the body. During the exam you can use progressive relaxation in
    the classroom for shorter periods of time and focusing on your areas of that hold the most stress.

  • Desensitization

    Desensitization is a way of practicing your chosen method for stress management (Visualization, Meditation,
    and/or Progressive Relaxation). You will try and recreate the anxiety producing situation and begin using the
    techniques you want to implement to combat your test anxiety. Imagine yourself in different scenarios: the
    night before the test, see yourself walking into the room, the moment the professor hands you the exam. Once
    you have a peaked stress level, begin using your stress management strategies to lower your stress level.

To get more information on how to recognize your triggers or more on test anxiety visit here. You can also reach out the the UNC counselors who are here to help you take the first step to manage your anxiety. You can contact them at 970-351-2496 or visit their website

You can also contact the Psychological Services Clinic which is located in McKee Hall, Room 247. There number is 970-351-1645 or visit their website.