Tests’ Anxiety – Fear of Examination

You studied for the test in every possible way, and you feel ready and well-acquainted with the material.

But now, on the day of the exam, as you sit tensed and receive the test’s questionnaire, you feel that the stress overwhelms yo

You quickly scan the questions you are asked and feel that all the knowledge you acquired simply disappears and a feeling of “blackout” takes its place, accompanied by a dry mouth, accelerated pulse, paralyzing pressure, and a strong desire to flee.

15% of the population (teenagers and adults) suffer from tests’ anxiety, leading those who suffer from it to feel that they cannot fulfill their potential with regard to examinations in school, at the university, when taking pre-employment tests, sorting and compatibility tests, etc.

Tests’ anxiety is circular and self-nurturing. The anxiety creates a negative circle of reduced academic achievements, leading to increased anxiety, leading to further diminished academic success, and so forth. Such anxiety might influence self-image and the anxious person’s belief in his or her ability to successfully meet the academic entry requirements.

What is Tests’ Anxiety?

Tests’ anxiety is actually ‘performance anxiety’, whereby a person experiences physical and emotional sensations of pressure in situations when he or she is required to prove to himself and to others ‘what results he or she is capable of achieving’.

There is no gender difference in the prevalence of the phenomenon of tests’ anxiety, and it does not depend on the level of academic achievements. It exists across the spectrum: starting with pupils who have difficulty with a certain subject, or cope with various learning disabilities, and up until exceptional pupils whose command of the material is expressed when they participate in the lesson, but who have difficulty showing their abilities during the test, due to their tests’ anxiety.

Who might suffer from it?

According to research, most of the people who suffer from tests’ anxiety find success and achieving goals very important. They are sometimes described as perfectionists, they find it difficult to cope with frustrations, and pleasing others (family members, spouses, colleagues) is important to them. Tests’ anxiety among adults can be typically observed when people take important certification and qualification examinations, such as for the legal Bar, when concluding medicine studies, and for accountants.

People with learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder might develop tests’ anxiety because they lack confidence regarding their ability to take a test. Additionally, if the difficulties were not diagnosed when they were pupils, the tests’ anxiety might increase.

Tests’ anxiety among teenagers taking the SAT exams: the phenomenon of tests’ anxiety greatly increases when teenagers aged 17-18 invest all their time and effort in preparing for the SATs.

It is important to note that there is no correlation between the level of intelligence and tests’ anxiety. The latter is related to a person’s emotional/mental resilience, the level of expectations from himself or herself, or the level of expectations that the people around him or her have. In most cases, it will develop for these reasons, regardless of the person’s I.Q.

Common physiological symptoms:

  • Pressure is expressed as an accelerated pulse.
  • Sweating, mostly of the palms.
  • Tremor and a feeling of shivering.
  • Dizziness and a headache.
  • A dry mouth.
  • Stomachaches, diarrhea, vomiting.
  • Feeling as if one is about to faint.

Common reasons for tests’ anxiety

  • Perfectionism tendency: the wish to get the perfect score and no less in all subjects (I only got 80%? I must get 100%).
  • Family pressure to succeed: in many families, the parents compare the children to each other, and when the eldest child has especially high grades and academic achievements, the parents, whether overtly or covertly, pressure the younger siblings into matching the excellence which characterizes the eldest child.
  • Social pressure to succeed: when friends and classmates constantly receive excellent grades, they have an effect on their friends which creates social pressure revolving around the excellent grade.
  • A stressful and competitive academic environment: a society that assigns great importance to academic studies, and where the entry requirements set by the Council for Higher Education are very high, creates competition and pressure regarding the psychometric grade and the SATs’ average grade, that will allow acceptance to the desired academic track.
  • Difficulty with specific fields: sometimes tests’ anxiety is more prominent with certain subjects, such as Mathematics, Physics, and English.
  • Difficulty with studying skills/pupils who were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorders: sometimes such pupils will develop tests’ anxiety.
  • The interpersonal relationship with the teacher: this is a factor that significantly influences elementary school and junior high pupils.Inadequate communication and a problematic relationship between a teacher and a pupil might result in tests’ anxiety.
  • Crises that are not directly related to studying: when a pupil (of all ages) undergoes a crisis at home, such as the parents’ divorce, mourning, or a severe disease affecting one of his or her loved ones, there is an apparent decline in the pupil’s level of concentration and an increase in pressure during the lesson and when tested.

How does tests’ anxiety affect us?

The anxiety starts affecting us during the preparation stage, when we feel the pressure, and fear the upcoming test. The maximal effect is during the test itself when the level of anxiety rises and overwhelms us in different ways:

  • Emotional tests’ anxiety phenomena: a feeling of fear and anxiety, disappointment, anger and depression, helplessness and frustration. At the preparation stage, other phenomena, such as nervousness, despondency, or despair, might appear.
  • Physiological tests’ anxiety phenomena: nausea and vomiting, hands tremor, sweaty palms, whole body perspiration, accelerated pulse, headache, dizziness, accelerated breathing, feeling that one is about to faint, diarrhea and stomachache. The physiological reactions are individual and can appear in different variations.
  • Cognitive tests’ anxiety phenomena: lack of concentration, and temporary forgetfulness resulting from the pressure. Such difficulties might appear during the preparation stage, during the test itself, or during both stages. During the test, the person experiencing tests’ anxiety might have a blackout, i.e., a temporary ‘mental freeze’ that makes remembering the studied material impossible. A person experiencing tests’ anxiety constantly thinks anxiety-arousing thoughts that disturb his thinking process and reduce the likelihood of succeeding in the test.
  • Behavioral tests’ anxiety phenomena: restlessness, abuse of dangerous substances such as alchohol, drugs, and tranquilizers. Due to the wish to reduce the level of pressure and anxiety, the anxious person might make wrong decisions, and thereby harm his or her health and ability to fully fulfil himself or herself.