Can tests cause (a) headaches, (b) nausea, (c) panic?

Jenny Rohl/The News

(Actually, all of the above)

Story by Ashley TraylorContributing writer, and Tierra ReeseContributing writer

Jenny Rohl/The News

Jenny Rohl/The News

If just the thought of taking an exam causes headaches, nausea or light-headedness, then it could be a case of test anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Now that the fall semester has reached its midpoint, most students have taken or are preparing to take tests.

Test anxiety is a state of uneasiness during an exam that can lower a student’s performance.

Kristin Douglas, counseling clinic coordinator, said about 20 to 35 percent of college students struggle with test anxiety, but it is treatable.

“If students are not prepared for the test that is one thing,” she said. “But test anxiety is where students often know the answers but their mind goes blank, they panic or freeze during exams.”

Even after hours of studying on a daily basis, if a person suffers from test anxiety, all the knowledge can temporarily be suppressed during the actual test.

Alicyn Woodward, senior from Terre Haute, Indiana, said she often experiences test anxiety around finals week because of stress and worry.

Murray State has counselors at Alexander Hall available to help students who struggle with test anxiety, which can manifest itself in different ways.

         Physical Symptoms:

Headache, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, sweating, feeling faint, panic attacks

Emotional Symptoms:

Anger, fear, helplessness, disappointment

Behavioral Symptoms:

Difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts, comparing yourself to others

“I was so nervous about a speech in my COM 161 class that I sought professional help from my advisers and counselors,” Woodward said.

When your body is under stress, it releases adrenaline, which can cause an increase in heart rate, sweating, tense muscles, digestive issues and many more problems. The more a person focuses on the stress of a test, the greater the possibility of performing poorly.

Students who tend to worry a lot or are perfectionists – as well as those who are not prepared for test but do care about doing well – are more likely to struggle with test anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association.

Lack of preparation is not the only reason people experience test anxiety. Pressure, overthinking and a history of poor test-taking are causes as well.

Autogenic relaxation is a popular technique to treat test anxiety. It is a technique used to relax the mind and body – similar to self-hypnosis – and begins with taking a few deep breaths to prepare the mind and body for relaxation, according to the association.

“I have seen students benefit from autogenic training for test anxiety,” Douglas said. “The approach addresses the physical and mental aspects of stress.”

There are several ways to combat less severe cases of test anxiety. It is important to develop consistent, thorough study habits. These habits should include beginning to study for an exam a few weeks before the test date to avoid cramming. Read all test directions carefully and take advantage of the full time limit.

Research also suggests staying healthy – physically and mentally. Not exercising, eating poorly and failing to get enough sleep at night will make it more difficult to manage test anxiety.