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Test Anxiety: An Extreme Response to an Academic Stressor Essay Sample

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Test Anxiety: An Extreme Response to an Academic Stressor Essay Sample

            Stressed out? Feeling anxious? Worried about the final exam? It comes as no surprise that students, especially those facing midterm or final exams, would probably answer yes to these few questions. However, the levels of stress induced by tests can escalate and last so long that they produce crippling anxiety for some individuals. Such powerful stress responses to tests can leave students with detrimental grades and low self confidence. The students receive poor grades even though they have studied hard and are familiar with the material they are being tested on. How exactly does this happen? Most students feel some degree of nervousness before a test, but do not have such a strong reaction. This essay will thus look at the various causes and effects of test anxiety, as well as some of the techniques available to overcome such obstacles.

            Stress occurs in a series of stages. The first stage happens when the body reacts to an external stimulus, or stressor, that is perceived as threatening. In the case of test anxiety, the test itself becomes the stressor. While a piece of paper and questions about study material may not seem intrinsically threatening at first glance, the consequences of failing said test can induce a great deal of worry. As Greenberg (2002) mentions, such symbolic stressors hold threats to an individual’s, “loss of status, threats to self esteem, [creates a sense of] work overload”. Students with test anxiety will start to wonder and agonize over what types of questions will be on the test, whether or not they are studying the right material or just trying to memorize unimportant details.

            Similarly, stress turns into anxiety when the state of biological arousal remains for an extended period of time and results with an unrealistic fear response accompanied by behavioral symptoms of trying to avoid or escape a situation (Greenberg, 2002). The Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence states that specific symptoms of test anxiety include “rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, sweating, stomach ache, dizziness, and desire to urinate” (Gale Research, 1998). These symptoms come as a result of the body’s “flight or fight” response, which prepares an individual to either stand ground and face a threat or turn and run from the problem.

 In a brief summary, the biological response to a test occurs as the stressor is cognitively appraised in the person’s mind as a potential threat. Understanding the exam as a threat the cerebral cortex releaseas neurotransmitters so that hormones and adrenaline are then released into the body. The adrenaline speeds up the heart, and heavier breathing comes from increase in dialation of bronchial tubes which feel greater need for oxygen consumption. Also the thyroid gland secretes thyroxin. This paricular substance increases gastrointestinal motility, which can result in stomach ache or diarrhea. The gastrointestinal system is affected too,with a decrease in saliva, uncontrollable muscular contractions occur in the esophogus, along with an increase of hydrochloric acid in the stomach (Greenberg, 2002). While this overview does not cover the entire biological process, it does reveal how the symptoms of test anxiety develop.

Consequently, since biology plays an important role in the experience of and reaction to stress, the effects of test anxiety can become just as detrimental to the individual’s body as to their grades. An extended bout of anxiety can lead to ulcers as the body has repeated increases of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Other consequences of stress and anxiety include high blood pressure, and increased risk of illness and heart disease. Illness after exams occurs when the individual’s energy has been spent on worry, depleting the immune system and leaving it vulnerable to infection. Risk of heart disease occurs over time as the stress increases the levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream (Greenberg, 2002).

Overall, test anxiety comes from an irrational fear of test taking along with the consequences an individual has to worry about if they fail. Biological processes of the mind and body create response symptoms that can make students ill, create a “blank out” period where they cannot recall information, or may make them sick to the point that they avoid taking an exam altogether. These reactions cause detriments in the student’s grades and self esteem. Prolonged anxiety can also affect the individual’s health. However, advancements in the medical field make it possible to predetermine persons at risk of test anxiety so that academic institutions can make appropriate provisions for those who suffer from acute test anxiety.


Gale Research (1998). Test Anxiety. Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood & Adolescence. Accessed

online June 13th, 2006 at


Greenberg, J. S. (2002). Comprehensive Stress Management. New York: McGraw Hill.

Simple Blood Test Will Accurately Diagnose Anxiety. (Medical News Today, 19 Oct 2005).

Accessed online June 13th, 2006 at


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