PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Test Stress: Under Pressure!

Do you know someone who never gets bothered by tests and can take them without breaking a sweat? Yeah, some people are lucky like that.

But for most of us, taking tests can cause a lot of icky feelings and sensations, such as:

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking straight
  • Low self esteem or no sense of humor
  • Being nervous or anxious
  • Feeling depressed or down on yourself
  • Nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, or other stomach problems
  • Racing heartbeat or trouble breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweaty or cold hands
  • A feeling of tightness in your muscles or chest

Spend a moment actually thinking about a test you have to take. Does it bring on any of these feelings? If so, that might mean you're having some trouble dealing with the stress of the test.

Remember: These symptoms could also be signs of illness, so if you have one or more of them, talk to a parent, nurse, or doctor!

Now that we know what stress looks and feels like, let's talk about where test stress comes from. Here are a few of the biggest causes of test stress:

Pressure from yourself. It's important to do your best and study hard, but if you feel like you just can't stop pushing yourself to prepare or that you won't be happy with anything but a high grade, that pressure can be hard to handle.

Pressure from teachers. Many schools want to show high test grades from their students to prove that they're doing a good job of educating them. So they have high expectations for the teachers, who then have high expectations for the students! You might even notice your teacher getting stressed about a particular test, too.

Pressure from parents. Most parents want to see great report cards, and they can start pushing when test time comes around. If your parents are expecting you to ace a test, you can really start to feel the heat.

Competition with friends. You love your BFF, but she's always asking you how you did on the test you both just took. Or one of your classmates seems obsessed with comparing grades. This is normal, but can add to some of the pressure you're already feeling.

Past experience. If you had a bad time with a test in the past, or if you've done poorly on one or more tests, you could feel anxious about the next one.

Fear and panic. Many students are just plain scared of tests. Tests make them uncomfortable and nervous, and the thought of sitting down and starting a test can put someone into big-time Panic Mode! Once that happens, it can be hard to think straight, which just makes the situation worse.

Negative thinking. If you're convinced you're going to fail, or you keep beating yourself up with thoughts like "I'm not smart enough" or "I never do well," this can add a lot of stress.

Rumors and legends. Sometimes, other students can spread rumors about a test, or you might hear things from older friends or siblings. Rumors like "That teacher's tests are totally impossible to pass!" or "Nobody takes that test without throwing up!" can make you a lot more nervous.

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