Test anxiety is not a mental illness nor are people born with this affliction. Instead, test anxiety is a learned behavior. The goods news is that people can unlearn this debilitating response to test-taking.
Research identifies two forms of test anxiety: somatic (what happens biologically) and cognitive (what happens mentally). Most people experience both simultaneously, creating a perfect storm of nerves and panic. Thoughts feed stress hormones which cause these hormones to surge through the body and vice versa.
While some students may be genetically predisposed to higher arousal levels which induce anxiety, others are fueling this biochemical mind-storm with their thoughts alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America cite the following thought patterns as precursors to test anxiety:
- Fear of failure: While the pressure to perform can act as a motivator, it can also be devastating to individuals who tie their self-worth to the outcome of a test.
- Lack of preparation: Waiting until the last minute or not studying at all can leave individuals feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
- Poor test history: Previous problems or bad experiences with test-taking can lead to a negative mindset and influence performance on future tests.
Add to this list a sense of personal worth based on academics and a fear of alienation from peers or family due to poor grades — both of which seem to be highly ingrained in a millennial student’s sense of value and self worth — it becomes clear that pervasive cognitive errors can make test taking seem like a life or death experience.