Psychologist and Evaluator
San Francisco, CA
Phone: (415) 577 - 4750

Test Anxiety

Anxiety about test performance has become increasingly common, if not endemic, due to a modern day emphasis on test scores and one’s future success.  Test anxiety occurs for these FOUR reasons:

  1. A student has genuinely not prepared well and knows that he/she does not have the knowledge which will be measured.  Anxiety for this reason does not occur for many hard-working students, but it does occur for those who have developed habits of avoidance and procrastination.  It occurs more often for students who have ADHD, because their deficits in concentration can cause avoidance and minimal completion of assignments.  Knowing that one is ill-prepared for a test is a real and legitimate reason to be anxious.
  2. Students who are temperamentally predisposed to anxiety across a variety of situations will usually have test anxiety in these high performance situations.  If a student is known to have a broader condition of anxiety, this may be cause for academic and test accommodations.  However, offering accommodations can also serve to undermine the confidence of a student, so the pros and cons of this choice should be considered carefully.
  3. Test anxiety occurs when a student believes that, for some reason, he or she will not be able to perform well, even though they have prepared.  This occurs for students with learning and attention deficit disorders, because they have issues which cause slower processing.  Knowing that one cannot complete the task in the same manner as others is another legitimate reason for concern and accommodations.
  4. Finally, test anxiety occurs when students place too much emphasis on the importance of the test.  Thoughts like: If I don’t pass this I won’t get into college, If I don’t score high enough I won’t get into graduate school, or If I don’t pass this I won’t earn my license, place tremendous pressure on a student.  These may be real-world concerns, but boxing oneself into believing that the outcome of a test determines one’s future, and therefore one’s happiness, self-worth, or well-being, is unhealthy and out of proportion to the task at hand.  In these situations it is critical to reduce the amount of pressure on oneself, by thinking about a realistic outcome from the test, and alternatives should one not perform as hoped.
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