Test Anxiety: What is it and how do I overcome it?

You are just about to take your first test in your online course.  Your hands are clammy, you feel dizzy, possibly even nauseous.  Maybe you feel angry and have difficulty concentrating. The feelings described above are quite commonplace and are a part of what is termed “text anxiety”. Student Academic Services at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo define text anxiety as “a feeling of agitation or distress…before or during an exam”. While it is normal to feel some anxiety prior to a test, too much anxiety could be damaging to your performance on exams.

So what does text anxiety look like?


  • Typically test anxiety can occur in one of three ways that could impact your test performance.
  • Physical – You might have a headache, be nauseous, have a fast heartbeat, or even feel like you are going to faint.
  • Emotional – You might feel angry, sad, afraid, or helpless prior to your test.
  • Behavioral/Psychological – You may have difficulty concentrating or may think negative thoughts prior to your test.

Now that we have discussed the symptoms of text anxiety, you may be wondering whether this is something you deal with yourself.

Do I have text anxiety?

So you may be wondering whether you have text anxiety or not. William & Mary provides a short quiz to assess whether you may be suffering from text anxiety or not. So now you know the symptoms and whether you suffer from text anxiety or not. However, what causes text anxiety?


  • There are several factors that could potentially cause you to have test anxiety, some examples are discussed below.
  • Failure – You may be afraid to fail. Whether it is because this is your first online class, you are not doing well in the course, or you need the course to graduate, connecting the pressure to do well with other outcomes impact your performance.
  • Unprepared – Maybe you waited until the last minute to study or put your notes in order due to other conflicts or procrastination. This could lead to feelings of anxiety.
  • Prior Bad Performance – Maybe you did poorly on a prior test which could lead to negative feelings about the current test.

The good thing is that test anxiety is manageable. Below are some management strategies to help you work through your test anxiety.


  • There are several methods to diminish text anxiety.
  • Time Management – Managing online classes with your other activities (e.g. work, family, etc.) can be difficult. Creating a concrete, manageable schedule can help when completing coursework and studying for exams. In prior posts, I discuss how to use Google Calendar for schedule management and task purposes. I also discuss how to use a planner effectively and different types of lists for organizing your tasks.
  • Preparedness  – Making sure you are prepared for your exam is extremely important. Most stress may come from a feeling of not being prepared. Ensuring that you have the right amount of time to study is important. Starting in advance, at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time, can make the studying process much smoother. Another thing to keep in mind when preparing is to ask questions.  If you are unsure of a concept, ask your professor. They are there to help you succeed but they will only know that you need their help if you ask for it. A part of being prepared is ensuring you know what to expect going into an exam and that your questions are answered.
  • Relaxation Techniques – There are a variety of relaxation techniques (e.g. visualization, deep breathing, etc.) that can help manage test anxiety. e-Learners.com and Minnesota State University Mankato offer great tips on relaxing.
  • Exercise – Exercise has been shown to provide many benefits (e.g. better sleeping, circulation, etc.). Being active, even a little, can help release stress.
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Sleep is very important for cognitive functioning and overall well-being. Getting a good night’s sleep could help you be more alert for your test. e-Learners.com provides some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, even when you are anxious and unable to sleep.
  • Breathe – Taking a second to breathe when your brain is racing a thousand miles a minute can help bring you back to the task. When you begin to feel anxious, take one deep breath in and out, then another until you begin to feel less anxious.

Below are some references for further information on test anxiety and some strategies to manage it.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America – The ADAA’s mission “focuses on improving the quality of life for children and adults with these disorders. ADAA educates patients and their families about the disorders and helps them find treatment, resources, and support.” This site provides a snapshot about text anxiety and how to treat such issues.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo provides a definition of text anxiety, a quiz to assess where you are at, and some strategies for dealing with test anxiety before, during, and after an exam.

eLearners.com – This site provides resources for online learners. This page will provide you with relaxation tips, sleep tips, and others to manage test anxiety.

Minnesota State University Mankato – This site discusses how to handle text anxiety from a behavioral/cognitive perspective.

U.S. News Education – This article provides general tips that could apply to life in general as well as text anxiety.

URI Counseling Center – If you are local, the University of Rhode Island offers counseling to students for free. In general, it can be helpful to speak to someone if you are feeling anxious and stressed.

Questions? Contact me!

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