& Resource Center
West Chester University
224 Lawrence Center
West Chester, PA 19383
Test anxiety is complex, but the remedy is fairly straight-forward if you study using good study skills.
NOTE: Just because you forget on a test does not mean that you necessarily have test anxiety. Most forgetting occurs within the first 24 hours of learning. In fact you may forget as much as 50% in one day and 80% within two weeks. You may merely need better study and memorization skills.
Anxiety is experienced as test taking stress that includes a feeling of dread that something bad is about to happen. Students may anticipate their poor performance, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Symptoms of anxiety include perspiring, stomach ache, nausea, change in breathing rate, feelings of uneasiness, and/or forgetfulness.
State dependency refers to the fact that the state of consciousness when one is learning is also the ideal state of consciousness when trying to recall that information. States of consciousness may range from sleep to a very alert, awake state. Research shows that students should attempt to study in a personal and physical context that mimics the test situation. This is why anxiety interferes with attempts to recall information learned while in a relaxed environment. Anxiety sets into motion a set of physiological responses, including reduction of oxygen to the brain, that inhibit recall. If one regularly has test anxiety, then it becomes important to learn how to move from a state of anxiety to a state of relative calmness.
The nervous system can't tell the difference between imagery and reality. Remember, you recall information better where you learned it. Ideally, you would study in the classroom where you are going to take the test. But the world isn't ideal, so we go for the next best thing. We study and learn our information, then we review by sitting in a chair with our eyes closed and imagine the classroom where we are going to take the test in as much detail as possible. Then, we mentally go over the information while imaging the classroom. It works just like studying in the classroom. The imaging exercise should be combined with progressive muscle relaxation. This pairs relaxation with the information and with the test taking situation.
Here is a simple, but powerful piece of information. There is a correlation between muscle tension and anxiety. If you can relax your muscles, you will reduce anxiety. If you can train your muscles to relax deeply on command, then you will have taken a giant step toward being able to reduce anxiety. That is the function of progressive muscle relaxation.