Test Anxiety Student Workbook by

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Test Anxiety

Student Workbook

David B. Ross, EdD

The College of Lake County

Grayslake, Illinois



Student Progress Sheet v

UNIT ONE-What is Anxiety and How Did I Get It? 1

What is Anxiety? 2

Anxiety, Where does it Come From? 4

Relaxation Training 6

UNIT TWO-Effective Time Management 13

Time Planning 14

General Life Priorities 16

Systematic Desensitization 18

UNIT THREE-Managing the Moment of Crisis 22

Learning to Cope 22

Physical Relaxation 22

Positive Self-Talk 23

Managing the Test Situation 24

UNIT FOUR-Active Reading and Memory 28

Active Reading 30

Memory Techniques 32

UNIT FIVE-Healthy Living Habits 38

You Are What You Eat 38

The Role of Exercise in Reducing Anxiety 40

UNIT SIX-Test Taking Strategies 44

Test Taking Strategies 46

Developing a Plan of Action 47

Reading for Key Words 48

Developing a Skipping Strategy 49

Outlining Essay Questions 50

Preparing Practice Tests 52

UNIT SEVEN-Rational Thinking 54

A Theory of Rational Thinking 54

Changing the Irrational Beliefs 55

Coping Strategies-A Review 57

UNIT EIGHT-Summary and Review 61

Review of Goals 62

Summary and Review 63




The following workbook is a specially designed program designed to reduce test anxiety in college and high school students. It can be used as part of a teacher/counselor led class, or as a self-paced program. Each chapter can be used as a "stand-alone" unit that is used without the others. However, it is recommended that all units be completed because the relaxation tapes that are part of the program follow the sequence of the chapters.
The key to success in reducing the test anxiety is practice. Your anxiety didn't develop overnight and it will take considerable effort on your part to undo its effects, but you can make a difference! This workbook will take you through key elements in reducing the test anxiety; your responsibility is to try them out. All too often we are looking for the quick answer, such as, "Tell me what I can do on tomorrow's test." But quick answers provide only temporary solutions. By completing the assignments and practicing the skills, you stand a very good chance of significantly and permanently reducing your test anxiety. It will take a lot of time to complete the work for this program, but it will be worth the effort!
Each chapter has some brief introductory comments and ideas followed by some practice activities. At the conclusion of each unit you will be given homework assignments that give you an opportunity to practice some of the skills. Many of the concepts presented will be repeated in later units so that you will practice them again. One of the best test anxiety reduction methods is to practice taking tests and you will be given several opportunities to do that here. The basic structure of each unit is:
A.) Presentation of Information. A brief presentation of information about anxiety or the test anxiety reduction skill to be practiced. Several topics may be presented in each unit, some of the topics will be repeated.
B.) Practice Activities. Trying out some of the skills immediately following the presentation. These will be called, "Practice Pauses."
C.) Homework Assignments. You will be given one or more assignments to complete before moving on to the next unit. Students doing the class on a self-paced basis will bring the assignments to the teacher or counselor for check-in prior to going on to the next unit. Students in a teacher-led class will bring the assignments to the next class session.


Student will need the following materials for the class:

Student Workbook

Relaxation Tapes, two sided (one general, 3 desensitization)

Calendar and Daily Assignment Book

I wish you luck on your endeavor of reducing test anxiety. Many students have significantly reduced or eliminated their anxiety. With diligent work, you can also.

David Ross, EdD


College of Lake County, Grayslake, Illinois
Copywrite 1992

Reproduction with Permission of the Author only.


The following student progress checklist is to help you and your instructor

keep track of the activities completed.
Homework Assignment Date Completed
Unit One: General Relaxation Tape and Log ____________

School Anxiety Self-Assessment ____________

Unit Two: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 1 ____________

Study Calendar ____________

Unit Three: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 2 ____________

Study Calendar ____________

Unit Four: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 3 ____________

Reading and Memory Worksheet ____________

Diet Log ____________
Unit Five: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 4 ____________

Diet Log ____________

Unit Six: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 5 ____________

Practice Test ____________

Unit Seven: Test Anxiety Tape, Step 6 ____________

ABC Practice Worksheet ____________




Do Not Read This Chapter! Before going any further please skim through the entire workbook so that you have a general idea of what is included. This is a necessary step in learning new material. Please do it now, and be certain that your fingers touch each page.
Thank you. Now we can begin:
Have you ever had any of the following types of reactions?
"I felt I was ready for the test, but when it started my mind just went blank."
"Before the test started I felt sick. I just wanted to get out of there."
"I kept thinking to myself what would happen if I did poorly on this test, I just knew it would be awful because I was going to fail again."
"I thought I did just fine, but when the grade came back it was a 'D', I don't know what happened."
"I am always feeling under pressure, my life is just too hectic."
If you have signed up to take a test anxiety reduction program you know already about the above kinds of thoughts and feelings. Where do they come from and how do I get rid of them? That is what this course is about.
Anxiety is a very complex human reaction that has both physical and mental elements to it. The physical elements include things such as sweaty palms, accelerated heartbeat, and a queasy stomach. The mental elements include self-doubts and constant worry about things. To control your test anxiety you will need to deal with both of these elements, taking a pill to relax more or "concentrating harder" probably will not solve the problem.
Anxiety reactions can be very powerful and to understand that intensity we can look at our body's natural arousal systems. If we are presented with a real situation that is threatening, we respond with fear and our bodies are aroused. This fear is very natural and protects us from harm; we would not survive long as a species without this responsiveness. Within our autonomic nervous system we have two divisions, the sympathetic division which helps arouse us and the parasympatheic division that helps with the calming process. Both of these are necessary and complementary. The sympathetic gets us going and and protects us during those threatening situations, the parasympathetic calms us down so that we can rest and recuperate from the sympathetic arousal. The following are the specific reactions of each of the systems:
Sympathetic. (The part that gets us "pumped up")
Our heart starts to beat rapidly, and the blood pressure goes up.
The blood goes to our muscles and less to the thinking part of our brain (which is why we go blank when nervous).
Digestion is slowed down.
Breathing rate increases.
Blood sugar is released to give us energy (also depleting energy reserves).
The rate of perspiration increases (you sweat!).
Adrenalin is released in the body giving an overall excited effect.

Parasympatheic. (the part that calms you down)
Breathing is slowed down.
Digestive processes increase.
Heart rate slows down and blood pressure decreases.
Perspiration returns to normal.

There is a myth that all anxiety is bad, but a little bit of sympathetic arousal might be good for times when you have to take a test because it will get you "up" for the test and make you more alert. However, too much of this type of reaction will make it hard to concentrate. One explanation is that all the body's energy is being focused into the large muscle groups and the brain-stem (which controls the automatic functions of your body), and not enough is being brought to the cerebral cortex which is responsible for thinking. This explains why you go "blank" when you are real nervous, then everything comes back to you when you relax later.

During anxiety reactions we start breathing more rapidly, and that breathing tends to be upper chest breathing rather than from the diaphragm. If you are jogging this type of breathing is great, but if you are sitting at a desk taking a test, you will start to hyperventilate. When you hyperventilate you increase the proportion of oxygen in your blood and reduce the proportion of carbon dioxide. You start feeling light headed and can't think as straight. (Try it right now. While sitting in a chair start to breathe rapid and shallow. Do this for thirty seconds and notice how you feel.) You can control this tendency by concentrating on breathing while extending your diaphragm, or "belly breathing."
While in an aroused state your body is calling for more energy. This energy comes in the form of blood sugar, the fuel for our cells. We obtain the blood sugar through the digestion of the foods we eat. If we stay in an aroused state for a considerable period of time, it substantially reduces our reserves and we have to "re-fuel." In a later unit we will look at the need for a proper diet to support the stresses of school.
One way to define anxiety is to say that it is a fear-like arousal, when the situation really isn't that threatening. Granted, a test can be threatening to your grade point average, but it is not a physical threat and doesn't warrant a full-blown physical reaction.
Our mental, or cognitive, reactions are harder to measure than the physical ones. But, never-the-less they do contribute to anxiety reactions. Have you ever noticed that two people in the same situation will react in entirely different ways. An instructor gives an assignment in class, and some students just nod and smile as if they enjoyed the experience. Other students cringe and look like they are ready to cry. Attitudes and beliefs help determine how we react. One way we look at these attitudes and beliefs is through what is called, self-talk. Self-talk is literally what we say to ourselves. Going back to the teacher giving the assignment, some of the following are the self-statements that students may be making:
"Boy that assignment sounds like fun, I will learn something new."
"Give me a break, he knows we won't have time to do all that."
"Same old stupid assignment."
"That is my worst area, what will I do? I'm sure I can't get that done."
"Well, I guess that is what I expected."
As you can see, we all react differently to situations. You can make your own interpretations as to the effect of the various self statements made above.
In summary, test anxiety involves a complex reaction that has resulted from a sympathetic nervous system arousal and a mental reaction that is somewhat affected by our beliefs.


Think about your last test. Write down the physical and mental reactions.
Physical: What was your body feeling like before and during the test?

Describe it in as much detail as you can.

Mental: What were you saying to yourself?




Where did you get the test anxiety? Like most human behaviors you learned it. How you learned it is a more complex question. The following might be some of the starting points in the early development of test anxiety:
When you were first in school members of your family may have made a big deal about an upcoming test. You interpreted this interest as pressure to succeed.
You may have really "blown it" on a test one time and a great deal of attention was brought to it by teachers or parents.
You may have had to take a test one time when you were sick or being influenced by a great deal of family stress.
The previous situations will not cause you to be test anxious, it may simply be the starting point. If the feelings are continually reinforced then it may begin to develop into test anxiety over time. The following areas are often specific sources of test anxiety that are experienced by high school and college students:
Unfamiliarity. New situations are scary. Remember the way it felt the first day you walked into this school: "Will I know anyone? Will I do okay? Can I find my classrooms without looking like a fool?" It is natural to feel a little nervous the first time you encounter a new situation. Your first test with a particular instructor is likely to raise your anxiety level. Once we have had some experience with the new situation, then we relax a little more. Having a "dress rehearsal" is one of the main strategies used to counteract this problem. While it is impossible to totally anticipate a new testing situation, taking practice tests and learning test-taking strategies is one of the ways it is done.
Preparation. Students who have not learned the material that is included on a test will not do well. Or stated more directly, if you haven't studied sufficiently, you deserve to be nervous. One method to control test anxiety is to spend more than adequate time studying material and to study in an effective manner so that you feel comfortable with your ability to recall important facts and concepts.
General Lifestyle. Having a lot of stress in our lives will not necessarily cause us to have test anxiety, but it certainly does increase the likelihood that we will have problems. Many test anxious students also have significant things causing stress in their lives. How we take care of our bodies in terms of diet and exercise influence our ability to cope with stressful situations. One way of helping our school performance is to examine and modify life stressors, and to practice healthy maintenance of our bodies.
Conditioned Anxiety. Sometimes when we get in a testing situation there is an automatic chain reaction in our minds and bodies that results in an anxiety reaction. We hear "test" and we start to sweat. This is an indicator of a learned behavior. We have learned that when we are taking a test, we should be uptight. Sometimes a single, traumatic event, (like being ridiculed in math class by a teacher) can result in an apparent permanent anxiety reaction every time you deal with similar material. More common is a gradual reinforcement of the anxiety over time by continually doing poorly on tests. A type of relaxation training is used to control this automatic reaction and teach the body to stay more physically relaxed.
Irrational Thinking. At times our thought patterns set up unrealistic goals for ourselves, or we are always convincing ourselves that something awful will happen if we don't do well on a particular tests. We keep saying negative things to ourselves that aren't necessarily based on the facts. To control this type of thinking we can practice "positive self-talk" which serves to block the irrational negative talk.


Several different causes of test anxiety were just listed. What do you think are some of the causes of your test anxiety? You can include the ones listed above, or some of your own.


One of the ways that anxiety is controlled is to prevent your body from getting physically tense. If you are relaxed, it is physiologically impossible to be anxious. Our mind constantly interprets our physical state, and when we are really tense in certain situations, we tell ourselves we are anxious. Effective relaxation can help us prevent this interpretation from happening.
There are many ways to relax, all of which are effective provided that we use them. You can choose to use your own methods to relax (such as taking a walk, or listening to music) and they will help prevent you from getting nervous. As part of the process of this workbook you will learn two specialized ways of relaxing that may help you in school. The relaxation practice tape that goes along with this workbook will teach you two methods:
Deep Muscle Relaxation. It takes about 20 minutes to complete and shows you how to tense and relax all the muscle groups of your body. This is a good method for persons who have not practiced a lot of muscle relaxation previously because in a relatively short period of time you can learn to be very relaxed.
Deep Breathing Relaxation. This one only takes 2-3 minutes and teaches you to focus on breathing with your diaphragm. It takes a little more practice to learn to get deep relaxation this way, but once learned it is a very fast and effective method.


1. Practice using the general relaxation tape, doing the deep muscle one first. Then try the shorter, deep breathing one. Record your reactions on the log sheet that follows.
2. Complete the "School Anxiety Self Assessment" found on the following pages.

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