Students suffer from test anxiety

While some students have test anxiety year ’round, others suffer from it mainly toward the end of the semester when finals are looming, said Learning Support Specialist Mary Turner.

And, Turner said, test anxiety is different than everyday anxiety.

“Anxiety is a natural function of our body that lets us know that something is really stressful or we have the sense that maybe we can’t handle what’s about to happen,” she said.

“When we … talk about test anxiety we’re talking about an anxiety that stems specifically from the act of taking the test.”

Turner said test anxiety occurs for a number of reasons.

“So it isn’t a simply, ‘Oh, you have test anxiety? Here’s five things you can do.’ “There’s no quick fix. Sometimes people expect the magic pill. We don’t have any of those.

“We would have to sit down with the person and … try to help them pinpoint what about that experience is stressful for them and what is causing the anxiety, and is it more of a generalized type of situation,” she said.

Turner said she would first try to determine if the anxiety is specific to testing by asking when exactly the student is experiencing the anxiety.

“We try to talk about when they’ve been successful, (and)what’s different about this time from those times because sometimes it’s a matter of confidence.

“They feel like they’re not ready to do something but if you pull up their academic history, they’ve made all A’s and B’s, and they’re really good. They just aren’t seeing that.

“Other times they really are struggling and it really is impacting their performance.”

Taking control also tends to reduce anxiety, Turner said.

“The number one thing that people with any type of anxiety have to identify is what are the pieces of my situation that I can control,” she said. “The reason some people go out and do quite well is they feel like they’re in control.”

She said the next question would be, have you been doing what you should have been doing all semester.

“If we’re rolling in here at the end and you think, ‘OK I haven’t been in classes now for a month, and I haven’t done all of my work and I’ve got all of this stuff now at the end I’ve got to try to do,’ we’re in a salvage situation — and that may or may not happen,” Turner said.

She said at this point in the semester students have to think realistically about what they can do.

“For some that may mean [sacrificing a class] because if mathematically you can’t pass that class, you just need to put your time and effort into the things you still can do.”

Turner said often, a student just needs someone to listen.

“Certainly I encourage students to talk to someone, whether it’s someone in this office where they can have a really serious heart-to-heart about their situation and get an objective view of where they are, [or] it’s a family member, a fellow student they trust or a faculty member. It’s good to have somebody looking from the outside in at the situation with you.”

Turner said with upcoming finals, there is a greater amount of stress for students.

“On Dec. 15 this semester is going to end whether you’re ready for it or not,” she said. “Those students who maybe procrastinate or have just kind of slid by to this point, now have to face the reality that, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got three tests that I’ve got to … make up for this class, and I’ve got the final and this paper.’ They’ve got to find a way now to get all of that done.”

Turner said information and resources where students can find ways to relieve some of that pressure or take more control of their situation is available on the Student Support Services website at

“For those individuals who have more of a pathological anxiety that really shuts them down [where] they can’t perform at all, we encourage them to work with their physician or to let us refer them to someone. Whether they need medication or they just need more in-depth kinds of conversation about those issues, they can get that help and start resolving them.”

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