Exams can be terrifying. It’s easy to feel like the weight of the world rests in these moments – like this one test determines your grades and, in turn, your whole future – even if you know, rationally, that this isn’t really the case. What’s worse is that this fear and anxiety can make you do worse on the test. So, take a deep breath, and watch this video to walk you through some tips for beating test anxiety so that you can walk in on test day feeling refreshed and confident.
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What is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is so much more than experiencing the ‘butterflies’ at test time. Despite being fully prepared, students who suffer from this experience often have such emotional and physical stress when sitting down for a test that their mind goes totally blank, some students even feel like running away to escape such overwhelming sensations.
It is normal to feel some level of emotional activation when you are about to be tested because students know there is a chance they can pass or fail. This is good because it gathers your resources to work hard to prepare. It is when anxiety becomes more extreme that this level of emotional activation goes beyond helpful. It floods a student with anxiety and impacts their performance. Students may experience physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms, a racing heart, etc. They may also have trouble recalling information and thinking clearly.
Tips to Help Overcome Test Anxiety
There are several relatively simple things students can do to ease their test anxiety. It’s important to remember, what works for one student might not work for another. Below is a list of suggestions and strategies that you can try before and during exams. Some are easy no-brainers; others might be surprising. Try one, some or all of these to find out what works for you.
Before the Exam:
- Put things in perspective. Remind yourself that your upcoming exam is important, but your entire future doesn't depend on this exam.
- Also, it might be helpful to tell yourself that regardless of your performance on the test you will not be diagnosed with a terminal illness at the end of it.
- Also, bring to mind your past successes on exams and remind yourself that the admissions officers know what they’re doing and they have “bet” on your success.
- And remember: you can always use anxiety control strategies to moderate your anxiety level if it becomes excessive.
- You might try imagining yourself as a professional athlete: ask yourself how you would prepare yourself mentally and physically for an important game.
- Doing a moderate workout early in the evening (5:00 or 6:00) may help you sleep more soundly at night. If you often have trouble sleeping, consult your physician.
During the Exam:
- Get to the test site a little early, but try to avoid talking with other students right before the exam. (Their anxieties may increase your own.) Instead, take a walk around the building and silently talk to yourself, meditate, breathe, and/or pray.
- Moving your body can help rid you of some of the nervous energy you are experiencing.
- Also, your sense of what questions should appear on the test is not going to match perfectly with what the writer of the test had in mind. Therefore, when you encounter a curve ball on the exam, don’t get upset and lose your concentration. Instead, you can either make an intelligent guess now or mark the question and return later.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in slowly to the count of seven and exhale to the count of seven.
- Continue this slow breathing until you actually feel your body begin to relax. (Most people find that it takes 2 to 4 sequences.)
- Open your eyes and give yourself a positive, very specific self-talk (i.e., "You're sure to do well. You studied hard. You’re doing the best you can.") This whole procedure should take only about a minute and it's well worth the time.
- Seek help at your school. Don't be afraid to ask for help from instructors, tutors or counselors. Anxiety disorders, including test anxiety, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and those affected may qualify for test-taking accommodations such as a quiet room or additional time. Check out the college's counseling services; they may offer support and/or study groups.
- Seek help outside your school. Make an appointment with your family physician to discuss whether medication might help alleviate your anxiety. Secure the services of a private therapist or look for support groups. Talking about your anxieties with a professional counselor or fellow sufferers may help defuse their powerful hold on you.