Test anxiety is a real part of going to school for students. Exam preparation often causes stress and anxiety when students worry about performing to a certain academic level. While a certain amount of stress is normal or expected, too much can interfere with daily life potentially poor test performance. Defining exam stress and the root causes can help students understand their emotions and regulate their anxiety levels with coping skills.

Signs of Exam Stress

Students getting ready for exams might not recognize signs of stress. Some indicators may include losing touch friends, feeling sad, feeling overwhelmed or unable to make decisions, being unmotivated or physical signs like stomach aches, nail-biting or fidgeting. These signs of being anxious can further exacerbate the stress of taking tests because students may be less motivated to study or prepare.

External Pressure

Many students feel pressured because of expectations of family members or teachers. They want to do their best work so they do not let anyone down with their performance, including themselves. This pressure to do well can further heighten exam stress. Additionally, if a student is working toward a scholarship or particular academic goal, performing well on a specific test takes on added importance.

Internal Pressure

The pressure to perform well and succeed doesn't just have to come from a student's family; instead, the student may be the one putting the most pressure on himself. If the student wants to perform at the very highest level, a poor performance on a test may be a great fear. If the student spends too much time thinking about how difficult the exam is while worrying about the outcome of the test, this negative approach may further increase exam stress.


With pressure to gain an admission spot in elite colleges, competition is high to have academic success. Students may perceive themselves to be in competition with others and this competition may further heighten their anxiety levels. A simple test takes on a higher priority as it potentially affects grade point averages that can determine entry into colleges.

Lack of Preparation

When students know that they have not studied the course material adequately, feelings of nervousness and anxiety may sweep over them as they walk into the exam room. Students should study well in advance of the test and not wait until the last moment to prepare for an exam. Rushed, last-minute studying may be a pattern of cramming but also will increase anxiety. Students who do not sleep properly before an exam may also experience higher stress levels.

Coping Techniques

The best way to cope with exam stress is to be prepared. Sometimes, students just aren't able to adequately prepare for a variety of reasons. Some coping techniques for relieving test anxiety include getting rid of negative thoughts by taking deep breathes. Attending a yoga class or listening to relaxing music are other ways to relive test stress. Another coping technique is more of an overall approach to test-taking; students should try to excel but avoid being perfectionists.

Related Articles