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Who Gets Test Anxiety?

People who have anxiety in their family or who already have other forms of anxiety are more likely to have test anxiety

Anxiety does seem to have genetic components, so anyone predisposed to anxiety may get jittery when it comes to testing. Anyone who has been traumatized by a bad testing experience may also suffer from test anxiety.

Our brains remember traumas very well. People can develop a belief that 'I'm just a bad test taker' — once you have that belief in place, it can be self-perpetuating.


Causes of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is actually very common. Why exactly does it happen? A number of factors can cause test anxiety, including but not limited to:

  • Previous bad testing experience
  • Prior trauma, like going blank or doing very badly on a test
  • Inability to study because of anxiety
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Being afraid of failing
  • Perfectionism
  • Not being prepared for testing


Managing Test Anxiety

You can overcome it!

First you have to address what's happening physiologically. Since people are daunted by the ideas of their bodies acting up, it distracts them from the cognitive thought process.

To combat the physical stress that test anxiety can cause, learn some relaxation strategies.

Progressive muscle relaxation, which involves relaxing your entire body from your head to your toes, along with deep, slow breathing, can help your body relax and your racing heart slow to a more normal pace.

It's also important to face your fears head-on. If you move toward the thing that makes you anxious, your confidence goes up and your anxiety goes down.

Conversely, the more you avoid it, the more your anxiety kicks into gear.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to be completely prepared, though that doesn't mean an all-night cramming session (which could backfire if you don’t get enough sleep). So start studying, and don't avoid it because of fear. If you're prepared, that's going to have a lot to do with test anxiety.  It's also important to look at a test as what it is — it's just one test, a piece of paper — it doesn't define the rest of your life.

If you know test anxiety can strike you, have a game plan and implement it. Get your attention off yourself and onto the test — focus away from unpleasant sensations.

Sweep the bad thoughts away and conquer that test today!


More Tips on overcoming test anxiety

Focus: Mentally/Studying

1. Prepare ahead of time (don't cram).
2. Be confident--positive reinforcement!
3. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses to outline what needs to be studied first/last.
4. Nourishment is crucial for brain activity--sleep, eat, and relax.
5. Change up your study environments. This helps you to not get bored or in the habit of doing the same thing every time you study.
6. Lastly, Reward yourself for doing well!






How to do Deep Breathing Exercises

Sit up straight. (Do not arch your back) First exhale completely through your mouth. Place your hands on your stomach, just above your waist. Breathe in slowly through your nose, pushing your hands out with your stomach. This ensures that you are breathing deeply. Imagine that you are filling your body with air from the bottom up.

Hold your breath to a count of two to five, or whatever you can handle. It is easier to hold your breath if you continue to hold out your stomach. Slowly and steadily breathe out through your mouth, feeling your hands move back in as you slowly contract your stomach, until most of the air is out. Exhalation is a little longer than inhalation.

After you get some experience you don’t need to use your hands to check your breathing.

You can also do the above breathing exercise lying on your back. Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax before you go to sleep for the night, or fall back asleep if you awaken in the middle of the night.

You can also practice deep breathing exercises standing – e.g. while sitting in traffic, or standing in a lineup at the grocery store. If you are really tense and feel as if you are holding your breath, simply concentrate on slowly breathing in and out.

Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.

With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box below.

  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
  • It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

The most popular sequence runs as follows:

  1. Right foot*
  2. Left foot
  3. Right calf
  4. Left calf
  5. Right thigh
  1. Left thigh
  2. Hips and buttocks
  3. Stomach
  4. Chest
  5. Back
  1. Right arm and hand
  2. Left arm and hand
  3. Neck and shoulders
  4. Face

* If you are left-handed you may want to begin with your left foot instead.


Looking for Help from the Academic Resource Center ?  During the fall and spring semesters, the tutoring centers are open weekdays until early evening for the convenience of both day and evening students. The centers also offer summer and intersession hours, which vary. Please contact each center to make an appointment.


Writing & Reading Center  
- provides writing assistance for all courses, ESL support and academic support for courses in the humanities and social sciences

Location: Liberal Arts Building, Room 220A

Hours:  Mon-Thurs, 8am-7pm @LARTS
Fri, 8am-4pm @LARTS     
Sun-Thurs, 7pm-10pm @Elmwood Hall


 Math & Business Center
- provides academic support for algebra, calculus, statistics and other quantitative courses 

Location: Liberal Arts Building, Room 010

Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm @ LARTS
Sun-Thurs, 7pm-10pm @Elmwood Hall

Science and Engineering Center
- supports chemistry, physics, engineering and science classes and labs

Location: Science and Engineering Building, Room 217B

Hours: Mon-Wed, 9am-7pm @ SciEng
Thurs-Fri,  9am-5pm @ SciEng
Sun-Thurs, 7pm-10pm @Elmwood Hall