“My daughter is very bright, but she panics when she has to take tests.”
“My son can’t sleep the night before a test.”
“I was so scared during the SAT’s that I couldn’t concentrate at all.
I took a prep class, but it didn’t help me. I was just too up tight to do well.
I’m really worried about taking the SAT’s again.”
School resumed in Bergen County about one month ago. For many
students, young and old, the return to school includes the experiencing
or the re-experiencing of the symptoms of test anxiety.
Lots of bright students of all ages report significant anxiety related to exams.
To some extent, it is understandable since the world is quite competitive today and
test scores can impact the kind of college you attend, the kind of career you have
and the amount of money you earn.
Test anxiety impacts children and adults. I have treated doctors, lawyers and graduate
students who have had a huge amount of tension and anxiety related to licensure exams,
certification exams and entrance exams. Adult students tend to recognize the symptoms
One physician who I treated recently, knew the exam material very well. As he
noted, “My problem with this test is my nerves.” Fortunately, he
realized he needed help in learning how to calm down prior to the
exam and during the actual test in order to pass his board exams. After a few counseling
sessions, this doctor was able to successfully pass his certification exam. In addition,
he reported little or no anxiety while taking the test.
Younger students and their parents often mistakenly believe that prep classes and
coaching will rid them of their test anxiety. Prep courses are useful, but they do not
provide the right kind of help for the the student who has a great deal of anxiety
Symptoms of test anxiety include insomnia, nausea, a racing heart and sweaty palms.
Some students report feeling dizzy and weak. Obviously, it is difficult to concentrate
and perform well when you have these kinds of bodily sensations.
When I counsel somebody with test anxiety, there are several things which must
be explored. First, it is important to determine the person is anxious about other issues
in their life. Some patients who report test anxiety are quite anxious in other situations
as well. Some have multiple fears and phobias. This person requires a different kind
of treatment than does someone who reports anxiety that is restricted to exams.
Second, it is useful to get a thorough history and understanding as to the history
etiology of the problem. Sometimes, test anxiety surfaces after a person does
poorly on an important test. The person then begins to fear the next test.
People who suffer from test anxiety benefit from training in test taking skills.
I encourage them to do as many practice exams as they can and to develop a system
for attacking the exam. Most people like having a uniform game plan for approaching
specific parts of a standardized test. This helps them to feel comfortable in the exam
We also spend time on the student’s pre-exam preparation. We talk about
what they need to do the month before the test, the week before the test and the
day of the test in order to feel ready and psychologically comfortable.
I also teach people with test anxiety skills for feeling relaxed, focused and confident.
These techniques include ego building techniques, exercise, relaxation training,
meditation and self-hypnosis. The majority of these patients can be helped without any
medication. You can get a comprehensive program to help you or child manage test
anxiety at www.ConquerTestAnxiety.com
Interestingly, the same tools that help athletes and actors to perform
better seem to help people with test anxiety.
If you or your child is suffering with test anxiety, you probably should seek the
assistance of a mental health professional.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist in River Edge, NJ. He can be reached
at 201 342-3663. Or at firstname.lastname@example.org