How to deal with test anxiety

Do you ever freeze during exams? Have you ever had difficulty sleeping as exams approach? Do you sometimes mess up questions even when you know the answer? If so, you may be suffering from test anxiety.

Most students suffer from some degree of test anxiety. A small amount of tension before an exam is good. The feeling of butterflies in the stomach you get from increased adrenalin can sharpen awareness and actually improve performance. But for some students, test anxiety can be so paralyzing that no amount of preparation will enable them to pass an exam, regardless of how important that exam might be.

Anxiety makes it difficult to concentrate and can prevent you from recalling information you already know. Specific symptoms include loss of appetite, mental blocks, insomnia, panic, or nausea. Repeated yawning immediately before an exam is a common response. This is a natural reaction of the body trying to get more oxygen to the brain because the body is tense. The bottom line is that although stress can be excessive, it can also be managed.

There are two components of stress management: physical and mental. The physical component includes bodily tension and negative sensations. The mental component includes negative thoughts and worries. The following techniques deal with both components of stress and help counteract test anxiety.

1. Practice.

The more you do practice problems, the more comfortable and confident you become. Space out your studying or a few weeks or months and continually review material. Taking full-length practice tests and answering questions under pressure is always a good way to prepare.

2. Exercise.

Get outside and exercise a few days before or the day of the test to relieve tension.

3. Sleep.

Do not stay up too late studying. You will be irritable and distracted for the exam.

4. Visualize success.

Spend some time mentally rehearsing what it is like to succeed on the test. Visualize yourself in the classroom taking the test. You look at the questions and realize you know all the answers. Imagine yourself writing quickly and confidently. The next time you feel anxious about an exam, go back to your positive visualization.

5. Arrive early.

Get to the exam room early and familiarize yourself with your surroundings.

6. Practice relaxation techniques.

When you feel yourself tensing up, taking a long, deep breathe and let it out slowly. Focus on your breathing and do not worry about the time or the exam. Focus on positive self-statements such as “I can do this.”

7. Ask.

If you do not understand the directions or a specific question, ask the instructor to explain it to you.

8. Scan.

As soon as you receive the test, flip through the pages so that you have a good idea of how to pace yourself.

9. Write.

When you begin, write down important formulas, definitions, and/or key words so you do not worry about forgetting them.

10. Simple questions first.

Get the simple questions out of the way to help build your confidence for the harder questions.

Being well prepared for the test is the best way to reduce test anxiety. Remember that one test will never make or break your chances for a successful future. Most standardized tests can be taken again.

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