All About Test Anxiety
Do the words “test”, “exam”, and “quiz” make your palms sweat and stomach lurch? Does the material you had memorized the night before the big test suddenly give flight the moment you try to put pencil to paper? Sounds like you are one of the 15-40% of people who suffer from test anxiety.
Test anxiety comes in varied forms for different people. Symptoms such as the described above (sweaty palms, nausea, faulty memory) as well as rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, shallow breathing, and light headedness are physiological reactions to the mental stress of facing the expectations and dread of an exam for the anxious party.
But test anxiety goes deeper than physical reactions. Psychologists have been researching anxiety since the 1950s, and discovering more and more that depression, low self-esteem, procrastination, and fear of failure develop and can even snowball the more the test taker struggles and repeatedly performs badly.
29-year-old Melissa Bonomo, a distributed math and science major at the University of Wyoming, struggles a little bit at each sit down. “Right before a test [it’s worse], when people are walking around and making noise. In college, you’re expected to do well.”
Depending on the severity of the anxiety, there are options to help. Please see our tips on managing your mental blocks, improve your concentration and, hopefully, raise those scores!
8 Ways to Cope with Test Anxiety
Below are eight ways to help you overcome your performance fears in the class room.
1. Breathing techniques
In order to slow that heart rate and reduce the flight instinct in a test room, take some deep breathes. Inhale through your nose, and exhale from your mouth. Repeat this until you feel calm enough to proceed, and anytime that panic rises in your throat.
Getting oxygen to your brain will not only help recall memories, but also increase blood flow. Can you say stimulation? All those facts should come flooding back to mind.
2. Quality studying
Some text anxiety comes from not being prepared. It does NOT go without saying to make sure you are ready for that test you’re about to face. Don’t procrastinate, plan your studying time so you don’t cram last minute, and learn information several different ways. Sometimes reading the material over and over isn’t enough to memorize it. Consider flash cards, serious group studying, and even changing locations for your study sessions. These methods may be just the thing to make the facts stick for you.
3. Positive self-talk and self-image
Oftentimes, test anxiety comes from a lack of confidence and self-assurance. The best way to help this is through positive thoughts and words to oneself. For example, you can choose a mantra to repeat when you’re stomach starts flip-flopping. Below is a list of options to choose from.
I’ve got this test in the bag.
I am prepared.
I am ready.
I will pass this test.
I will answer each question correctly.
I will focus on the test and nothing else in the room.
Another way to improve the way your see yourself is to dress up for the test. Take the time to shower, shave, dress in comfortable clothes or ones you feel attractive in, put on makeup or aftershave. Go into that test room looking and feeling great!
4. Face your fears
The absolute worst thing you can do is give into that flight instinct I mentioned earlier. You can’t even score if you don’t take the quiz! The best way to not give in is to not make opportunity to do so. Set your pre-alarm, wake up alarm, and several post alarms if you have to. Don’t plan anything the night before or morning before the test. Get a class mate or friend to be your accountability partner. Don’t let the exam rule your fear.
5. Stretching & Relaxation
It’s been proven over and over in research that physical activity improves mental stability and performance. Having a regular exercised routine is ideal because it reduces stress levels and empowers you (see #3). But if that isn’t an option for you, consider a good set of stretches within an hour or two of starting the exam, or even some shoulder and neck stretches when you start to freak during it.
6. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Did you know lack of proper sleep, especially over long periods of time, act just like depression in your brain chemicals? I’ll reiterate, do not cram for tests! Get all your studying done and give yourself time to relax and sleep the night before. You’ll wake up refreshed, focused and ready to tackle that monster of an exam.
7. Test taking strategies
Maybe you’re good to go up until the teacher says start. Then the questions swim before your eyes. The shuffling of papers, scrapes of pencil on paper, and that guy three rows up bouncing his knee has you super distracted. Now is the time to deploy test taking strategies. It may take a few tests to figure out which ones work best for you but it will be well worth it if you can get yourself through it with great marks.
There are four strategies to try when the test lies before you. Firstly, consider all the questions. This will prime your brain and access your study memories. Secondly, answer the questions you know the answers to first. By doing this, you’re giving yourself a few little confidence boosts and guaranteeing that what you know will reflect on the test results. Thirdly, read each question carefully to make sure you understand exactly what’s being asked. And fourthly, if you don’t know the answer, at least guest (multiple choice) or explain anything you know that may be related to the question.
8. Last resort: Consult a doctor.
In some cases, test anxiety becomes extreme, overtaking a student’s grades or other life factors. If you feel like this is you, it may be time to consult a doctor or psychologist. They can help you implement the techniques I’ve suggested, may have others to offer, or, in extreme cases, offer you antidepressants, beta blockers, or benzodiazepine pills to help with symptoms.
In the End
Remember, you are in control of your emotions, bodily functions, and fears. Only you can take these techniques and make your life, especially test time, better. And if you can’t do it alone, don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. There are many people out there suffering through it too. But many have trounced this apprehension and succeed. Know that you can too!