Test anxiety can be debilitating, and is becoming increasingly prevalent due to the importance we place on test scores, the insane level of competition among students to earn top grades, and the resulting pressure that students place on themselves. There is no single profile of a student who suffers from test anxiety; it can happen to any student at any educational or performance level. However, there are certain types of test anxiety that do have specific causes. Many students who struggle with this have undiagnosed learning, processing, or attention problems that impact their ability to perform on a test. The repeated experience of struggle on exams (due to the learning disability) eventually causes them to approach every exam with anxiety. This is, of course, a learned and understandable reaction to a concrete problem.
Whether or not it is related to an underlying issue, test anxiety is a cyclical process. The more anxious the student is during the test, the lower the test grade, creating even more “learned” anxiety the next time around. Anxiety begets a low score, which begets more anxiety… and the cycle continues. In addition to addressing any underlying learning problems if they exist, it can also be very helpful for students to spend a few sessions with an experienced clinician who can work with them on developing effective strategies for decreasing anxiety related to testing. In doing so, it is very important to work with a clinician who utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (CBT), as this is an evidence-based approach that will offer the greatest chance of successfully addressing this problem in the shortest amount of time. The beauty of CBT is that its strategies are generalizable; students can use the anxiety reduction techniques they learn in these sessions to deal with any anxiety that they experience in other areas of their lives, over time.