Test anxiety

What is test anxiety??

Fear normally ensures that we react adequately in an emergency. Every student is more or less nervous about a test. This tension is necessary as it helps the student to be able to concentrate better and to focus fully on the test. Should this fear become too great, symptoms will arise which will cause the student, based on her or his potential, to perform poorly.
Test anxiety can occur in any moment of assessment such as during an exam, an assessment or at a job interview or an admissions interview. It is sometimes thought that test anxiety and fear of failure are and same, but this is not the case. Fear of failure is about failing in every possible situation, whereas test anxiety is about failing in one specific situation: a test or an exam.

Test anxiety is a complex concept and often does not have an identifiable cause. It is therefore not easy to solve test anxiety.


We can define two types of outward signs when taking a test:

Cognitive test anxiety affects the ability to think:

  • Indecision and doubts about the correct answer; 
  • Easily distracted, finding it hard to concentrate on the test.

Emotional test anxiety has a physical effect on the student:

  • Unsettled stomach and sometimes nauseous feeling;
  • Headache;
  • Abdominal pain;
  • Sweaty hands;
  • Shivering;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Tendency towards hyperventilation.

Possible obstacles

Before the tests:

  • Poor concentration through fear when preparing for the test;
  • Poor working memory in which study material is processed less efficiently and is harder to memorise;
  • Less efficient learning and studying strategy though test anxiety;
  • Less self-regulation; underestimating or overestimating  one’s own abilities;
  • Overestimating leads to insufficient preparation for the test;
  • Postponing preparing for a test as the student does not believe that they can do it;
  • Withdrawing from social situations; not asking for help from fellow students or teachers;
  • Not attending educational activities;
  • Failing to meet work agreements in group assignments;
  • Reflection on the learning process  is characterised by negative thoughts on one’s own potential.

During the tests:

  • Unable to concentrate on the test;
  • Black-out;
  • Negative thoughts on own abilities;
  • Worrying about the consequences of not passing the test;
  • Physical reactions: headache, shivers, abdominal pain, sweaty, light headedness.