What is test anxiety?

By Gail Belsky

At a glance

  • Test anxiety happens when kids feel ongoing stress over tests.

  • It’s common in kids who learn and think differently.

  • Test anxiety doesn’t mean kids have a general anxiety problem.

It’s natural for kids to sometimes feel stressed about taking tests and exams, especially if the stakes are high. But when the stress is ongoing, it can lead to test anxiety. 

With test anxiety, kids worry in advance about doing poorly — sometimes to the point of dreading going to school on test day. Any child can have it, but test anxiety is common in kids who learn and think differently. (So is general anxiety.)

Kids with differences may struggle with skills needed for taking tests or with understanding the material. And if they have a history of not doing well on tests, it can increase the fear of failure.

Test anxiety may begin days or even weeks before the test and build as the time gets closer. It can interfere with studying or other schoolwork. And the anxiety itself can affect how well kids do on tests. 

Having test anxiety doesn’t mean kids have an anxiety problem — especially if their worrying is limited to this one area. But it can still take a toll on their well-being and self-esteem.

What is test anxiety?

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is a clinical child psychologist devoted to the destigmatization of mental health problems.