Don’t let test anxiety get to you

June 25, 2018

This post was created in partnership with BetterHelp. As a BetterHelp affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase products or services through the links provided on this page.


As if medical school is not hard enough on you, add test anxiety to that and you can have a meltdown. Although it is completely normal to feel some worry or stress before a test, test anxiety is a whole different thing. Normal worry is actually a good thing because it can help motivate you to study harder and learn more. However, test anxiety has the unique ability to blow worry into a full-blown panic attack. This can cause you to become so stressed out that you get confused, cannot concentrate, and may even get sick or pass out. That is certainly not going to help you pass any tests.

What is test anxiety?

According to the experts, test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety that happens to you when you are under pressure to do something. For instance, you may get really nervous before having to give a presentation in front of your class, or performing some type of important act, like attending office hours to get clarification on something you’ve learned in class. When you know that your performance has to be the best, it can make you feel the worst. If you have ever had an anxiety or panic attack, you may never forget it. The signs of an anxiety attack include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Digestive issues such as nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Confusion
  • Feeling like you are going to die

What causes test anxiety?

The actual physical symptoms of test anxiety are caused by the release of adrenaline. This is the hormone that produces the “fight or flight” feeling when your brain senses danger. When you are under severe stress, your body will release a bunch of this hormone to “help” you get through the situation. However, this hormone does not help you in this case and will cause the symptoms mentioned above. Being in medical school, you already have so much pressure from all the classes, long hours, and the busy environment so when a test comes along, you may just freeze up. Thinking too much about it and worrying that you might fail can actually cause you to get a bad grade. There are other reasons you may have test anxiety, which include:

  • Lack of understanding of the materials
  • Not studying or preparing, or feeling you don’t have enough time to adequately do either
  • Previous failing grades
  • Pressure from peers or family members
  • Having a family member with a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression

What you can do

If you find that you get so nervous or anxious before or during a test that you cannot even concentrate, it is time to do something about it. Some things you can do yourself include making sure you are prepared for the test by studying, reading the directions carefully during the test, and taking your time while taking the test. You should also stay positive and focused, get enough sleep, and you may even want to try some relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. You may also want to talk to the instructor of the class, a counselor, or peer support person at your school about your test anxiety.

Talk to a professional

If you still feel like you are too anxious to get good grades on your tests, it is time to talk to a professional. There are plenty of therapists that actually specialize in this subject because it is so common. If you need help finding a therapist near you, try online therapy instead. As busy as you are, being able to get to an appointment can be difficult. With online therapy, you can talk to a professional online whenever you have time, no appointment needed, and you can do it from wherever you are.


Brought to you in partnership with BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. AMSA has partnered with Betterhelp.com to provide 28 days of unlimited professional online counseling for our members. Find convenient, affordable, private online counseling with a licensed, professional therapist. Anytime, anywhere.

As a BetterHelp affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase products or services through the links provided on this page.