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Test Anxiety Medication—Benefits, Side Effects, and Alternatives

Test Anxiety Medication—Benefits, Side Effects, and Alternatives

Most of us have felt uneasy before a big test. A little bit of edge can sometimes be beneficial to keep us alert and focused, but when this nervousness becomes anxiety, it can affect our ability to perform well. In severe cases, it can even lead to a panic attack.

Fortunately, there are numerous strategies, including medications and alternative therapies, that can help you manage test anxiety. This article will focus on test anxiety medication, highlighting their benefits, potential side effects, and safe use instructions. You’ll also learn about non-pharmaceutical options that can help in managing exam nerves.

What Is Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety, also known as exam stress or performance anxiety, is a psychological condition that causes severe distress or fretfulness in testing situations. While it’s most commonly associated with academic testing, it can also occur under other circumstances when you feel you’re being evaluated, such as:

What Causes Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety can stem from several factors, including:

  • Inadequate preparation—Insufficient studying, revising, or rehearsing can lead to feelings of unease and insecurity
  • Nature of the exams being taken—Exams or events that impact your academic or career path can cause test anxiety
  • Negative past experiences—Poor performance on previous tests can contribute to anxiety
  • Pressure to perform—High expectations from yourself or others can induce test anxiety

What Are the Signs of Test Anxiety?

The signs of test anxiety vary among individuals but can be categorized into two main groups:

  1. Physical signs
  2. Psychological signs

Check out a breakdown of the different signs of test anxiety in the table below:

Physical Signs

Psychological Signs

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Nausea

  • Headache

  • Excessive sweating

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Negative thoughts about the performance

  • Fear or dread

  • Mind going blank

Source: Yan Krukau

How Different Medications for Test Anxiety Can Help

Test anxiety medications work by targeting the body’s response to stress. They typically alleviate the symptoms associated with anxiety, helping you stay focused, recall information more effectively, and perform better on tests. The exact mechanism of action varies depending on the type of drug. 

Four common types of medicines used for test anxiety are:

  1. Benzodiazepines
  2. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  3. Buspirone
  4. Beta-blockers


Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to patients with anxiety, seizures, and muscle spasms. They work by interacting with the GABA-A receptor in the brain. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that slows down nerve cell activity, producing a calming effect.

When benzodiazepines bind to the GABA-A receptor, they amplify GABA’s effects, reducing neuronal excitability and inducing a state of calm. These drugs can be effective if you have exam nerves because they help you remain calm and focused during a test.

Check out commonly prescribed benzodiazepines and their typical doses for anxiety in the table below:

Drug Name

Typical Dose for Anxiety 

Alprazolam (Xanax)

0.25–0.5 mg, taken three times per day

Diazepam (Valium)

2–10 mg, taken 2–4 times per day

Benzodiazepines are generally more suitable for people with chronic anxiety, so they should only be used to manage acute episodes of test anxiety. These drugs carry a high risk of addiction, so you should only take them under the guidance of your healthcare provider.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness, in the brain. They achieve this by blocking the chemical’s reabsorption into the neurons, inducing calmness and focus. 

If you’re experiencing exam nerves, these medications can help reduce feelings of worry and fear, enabling you to perform better during a test.

Check out the examples of commonly prescribed SSRIs and their typical doses for anxiety in the table below:

Drug Name

Typical Dose for Anxiety

Sertraline (Zoloft)

25–200 mg per day

Fluoxetine (Prozac)

10–60 mg per day

SSRIs are typically prescribed for chronic anxiety disorders, so your doctor may only recommend them if your test anxiety is caused by long-term issues or could result in a panic attack.


Buspirone is a psychoactive drug that primarily interacts with serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain. It acts as a potent agonist of presynaptic 5-HT1A autoreceptors, boosting the action of serotonin receptors. Its unique mechanism of action results in anxiolytic effects, reducing neuronal excitability and inducing calm. 

The dampening of serotonin function can also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety disorders, including physiological arousal, restlessness, and tension. 

The typical buspirone dose for anxiety issues is 5–7.5 mg taken 2–3 times per day.

Still, this drug is primarily indicated for generalized anxiety disorder and has a delayed onset (typically 2–4 weeks), so you may need less extensive therapy if you only experience anxiety during exams, interviews, or when performing on a stage.


Beta-blockers are primarily indicated for heart conditions like hypertension and arrhythmia. These medications block the effects of stress hormones like adrenaline on beta receptors in the heart and blood vessels, causing the following:

  • Slower heart rate
  • Reduced force of heart contractions
  • Widening of blood vessels

These combined effects contribute to lowering blood pressure and mitigate the body’s physical response to stress. Due to this particular property, beta-blockers can be prescribed off-label to patients with situational anxiety. They’re typically taken as needed, making them a practical choice if you need to calm your nerves before tests or interviews.

Check out the examples of beta-blockers prescribed for anxiety and their typical doses for this purpose in the table below:


Typical Dose for Anxiety


10–40 mg, taken two hours before the test or another stressful situation


50 mg, taken two hours before the performance

How To Get Medication for Test Anxiety

You can only get the above medications with a doctor’s prescription. While these drugs are generally safe, they carry the risk of unwanted reactions and may interact with specific medical conditions, so your doctor will review your health status before determining the safest and most effective option for you.

Still, many people may find it challenging to communicate their specific needs for these medications to their healthcare provider as they fear stigmatization and additional stress.

Telemedicine platforms have changed the game by offering a convenient and stress-free solution. For instance, Kick can connect you with doctors from the comfort of your home, enabling you to discreetly articulate your needs and get treatment customized for you.

Source: Edmond Dantes

Kick—Ease Your Mind, Ace Your Test 

Kick’s program has helped many individuals overcome performance anxiety, as evidenced by fantastic reviews on Trustpilot:

“Kick made it really easy and convenient to get beta blockers without having to go to the doctor. They work well too! I feel much more calm during high-stress activities now.”

Richard Sun, U.S.

Here’s what to expect at Kick:

Kick’s program provides effective beta-blockers to help you get instant relief from occasional performance-related anxiety. Our medications include:

  1. Atenolol
  2. Propranolol

How Kick Works

To join Kick, follow these easy steps:

  1. Visit the signup page to begin your consultation
  2. Complete the questionnaire to fill us in on your health status and anxiety issues
  3. Provide your delivery and payment details

If our team decides you wouldn’t benefit from the program, you won’t pay for the initial consultation, according to our Doctor Guarantee. In case you join Kick’s program, your drugs will be delivered to your home or local pharmacy in discreet packaging, making the process convenient and respectful of your privacy.

Source: cottonbro studio

Potential Side Effects of Test Anxiety Medication 

While medications can be effective for test anxiety, they carry the risk of potential unwanted reactions. Check out the table below for more details:


Common Side Effects


  • Low blood pressure

  • Nausea

  • Depression

  • Memory loss

  • Reduced sex drive

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Weight gain or loss 


  • Headache

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea

  • Stomach upset

  • Restlessness

  • Ringing in the ears


  • Fatigue

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Dizziness

  • Depression

  • Shortness of breath

  • Constipation

The lists above aren’t exhaustive, so you should inform your doctor if you experience unusual changes while on medications for test anxiety. To avoid unwanted reactions, stick to your doctor’s instructions and take these drugs responsibly.

Implications of Taking Medications for Test Anxiety in the Long-Term

The effects of long-term use of anxiety medications vary depending on several factors, including:

  • The particular type of medication
  • Your health status
  • The specific anxiety issues

Check out the table below for a breakdown of the potential consequences of using different performance anxiety medications in the long term:


Effects of Long-Term Use



Can enhance the risk of dependency and cause withdrawal symptoms

Should be used under the close supervision of a healthcare professional

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Generally safe for long-term use, but they carry the risk of adverse reactions mentioned before

Only use SSRIs for chronic anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder 


Long-term use is generally well-tolerated, but results vary among patients

You can use it for an extended period, but only under the guidance of your doctor


Can contribute to memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and extreme mood swings

Use beta-blockers only before the stressful event in the doses recommended by a healthcare provider

You should never alter the dosage of the drugs prescribed by your doctor. If you have chronic social or generalized anxiety disorder, your doctor may recommend prolonged treatment.

Source: Andrea Piacquadio

Alternatives to Medication for Test Anxiety 

Beyond medication, several non-pharmacological methods can help you manage test anxiety, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—A type of psychotherapy that helps you understand and change thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or emotional distress
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques—Practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help you stay present and focused, reducing anxiety levels
  • Regular exercise—Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce anxiety by boosting your mood and acting as a natural stress reliever
  • Adequate sleep—Quality sleep is crucial for cognitive function and overall mental health, while poor sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety
  • Healthy diet—Maintaining a balanced diet can help keep your energy levels stable and manage anxiety symptoms

These alternatives can be used alongside medications. You can also employ multiple strategies at the same time to get comprehensive treatment if you have chronic or severe anxiety.

Featured image source: Andy Barbour