What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

You may feel nauseous, have butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms, experience muscle aches or a headache, or feel too hot or too cold.  You may feel panicky, overwhelmed, frustrated or inadequate and you may lose confidence in your abilities.  Anxiety affects your ability to think and concentrate. It impairs your memory, which is why students often ‘blank out’ during tests.


Perfectionism is a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that revolve around unrealistic goals and it often contributes to procrastination and test-taking anxiety.  Do you feel that what you accomplish is not enough or good enough? That you need to give 100% or else you will fail?  Students often set unattainable goals, then feel they have failed because they could not reach those goals.  There are a number of beliefs that are associated with perfectionism, including  fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, fear of disapproval, and all-or-none thinking. Often these beliefs lead to  procrastination, anxiety, and stress.

To help deal with perfectionism, look at the process of the task rather than the outcome of the task.

  • Set realistic goals based on what you want and what you’ve already accomplished
  • Ask yourself what you can learn from mistakes and failures
  • Prioritize tasks and be okay with spending less time on minor tasks

Minimizing Anxiety

The best way to minimize anxiety is to be prepared!  Avoid cramming for tests. Instead, review your material every day. Before and immediately after class are great times to do so.  If you hear the nagging voice in your head telling you that you should be studying, give in and study. The hardest part is getting started!

Here are some tips for minimizing anxiety:

  • Study 1-2 hours outside of class for every hour you are in class.
  • Determine the time of day where you feel most alert and use that as your daily study time.
  • Locate a distraction-free study place that works for you. Make sure you have everything you need to study with.
  • Work for a set amount of time, say 30 minutes, take a 5 minute break, then head back to studying. Breaks are necessary to maintain focus, but make sure they are short breaks.
  • Set goals for yourself, such as one hour of studying=30 minutes of video games later.
  • Narrow your scope and start with a familiar concept if you start to lose focus.
  • Practice a variety of study methods, including note cards and creating your own test questions.
  • Review main concepts of the material, as well as the details of the concept.
  • Utilize your lecture notes, class readings, and reading notes.
  • Sleep, exercise, and eat healthy meals. Avoid too much caffeine.
  • Stay positive and use your resources to aide you in test preparation, such as the CTL and your instructors.

Test Taking Tips


  • The day of the test, get enough sleep and eat breakfast. Avoid caffeine.
  • Do not cram before the test, but do arrive early to prepare for the test.


  • Take a deep breath, review the entire test, and read through the instructions twice.
  • Do the easiest portions first and then go back and do the more difficult portions.
  • Answer the questions that you know and then go back, spending time on questions you are unsure of.
  • If you are stuck, move on. Something else on the test may jog your memory.
  • On multiple choice tests, read all of the options, then eliminate answers you know are incorrect.
    • Treat each option as a true or false question, then pick the option that is ‘most true’. Your gut instinct is often correct.
    • If several options seem correct, ‘all of the above’ may be a strong possibility.
    • If a question has a double negative, create the equivalent positive statement, then  answer it.
    • Beware of tricky terms, such as ‘only’, ‘always’, and ‘most’.
  • For essay tests, create a short outline and then begin with a summary sentence.
    • Be concise and show what you know, even if it means using your words rather than technical terminology.
    • Watch terms such as ‘compare’, ‘contrast’, ‘describe’ and ‘identify’.
  • For short-answer tests, keep your answer brief and to the point.
    • If you have several answers in mind, ask your instructor for clarification.
  • Do not rush through a test, but do wear a watch and track your time.
  • If you are running out of time, focus on what you can answer well.
  • If you have time, review your test and do not leave blanks unless asked to.

Review Returned Tests

Review the test as soon as you get it back.  Know what questions you missed and why you missed them. Correct those mistakes.  Review the instructor’s comments so you know what to expect on the next test.  Review the material every day.  If you struggle with a particular type of test or question, practice those types of questions often.

Review how you studied for your last test and if need be, find better ways of learning the material. Utilize tutoring services.  In addition, your instructor may be able to offer valuable test-taking feedback and strategies. Make an appointment to discuss the test with your instructor.

Reflective Questions

The following are some questions to ask yourself in order to reflect on your last test.

  • Which part of the test was the easiest for you and why?
  • Which part of the test was the most difficult for you and why?
  • What activities did you participate in before the test? Such as completing the required reading, review of reading notes, review of class notes, self-testing of the material, prediction and practice of possible test questions, studying with friends, use of a tutor, and so on.
  • Which of those activities were the most helpful in reviewing for the test?
  • How much time did you spend preparing for the test?
  • Did you feel prepared for the test when you took it? Why or why not?

Remember, try not to compare yourself others. Stay positive and remind yourself that this is one test and that you will do the best that you can.  If you feel anxious, breathe deeply and try some muscle tensing and relaxation exercises to calm you.

Test Taking Consultation

The CTL Learning Specialist can help you discuss past test taking experiences, reflect, evaluate, and prepare for upcoming testing.  Please feel free to contact Cindy Utama, CTL Learning Specialist to set up an appointment at phone (920-832-7206) or email cindy.utama@lawrence.edu.

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