Overcoming Test Anxiety

By Helen Nieves, LMHC

Overcoming Test AnxietyAccording to Wikipedia, “test anxiety is a combination of perceived physiological overarousal, feelings of worry and dread, self-deprecating thoughts, tension, and somatic symptoms that occur during test situations. It is a physiological condition in which people experience extreme stress, anxiety, and discomfort during and/or before taking a test.

“These responses can drastically hinder an individual’s ability to perform well and negatively affects their social, emotional and behavioral development and feelings about themselves and school. Test anxiety is prevalent among the student populations of the world.”

Symptoms include:

Mental distractions and mental blocks.

You may:

  • Have a lot of negative thoughts about failing or not performing well on the test.
  • Worry excessively, which interferes with your ability to do well.
  • Have trouble concentrating and be distracted by noise.
  • Have trouble remembering what you studied.
  • Be unable to think effectively about the task.
  • Be unable to keep your mind on the test.
  • Be worried about other people scoring higher than you and think that you are not smart enough.

You may have physical reactions such as:

  • Fidgeting
  • Butterflies in your stomach
  • Quickened heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches

These symptoms may prevent you from thinking clearly or concentrating on the test.

Test anxiety can be caused by pressure from self or others, past experiences or fear of failure. Those who suffer from it also may feel that they need to achieve a “perfect” score in order to be accepted or feel loved by their parents.

It is important to familiarize yourself with some tips to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety before taking a test:

  • Be aware of your negative thoughts and self-statements and challenge them with logic. For example, you might say to yourself, “ I am going to fail.” Challenge the statement by saying, “How do I know I will fail?” or “Just because I did not do well on the last exam, does not mean that I will fail this exam.” Your self-worth should not depend on a test grade. There is no reward to negative thinking.
  • Relax your muscles and breathe. Inhale and exhale to a count of 5. As you do this, you receive more oxygen, thus relaxing you and helping to reactivate your memory. You can also try flexing the muscles in your feet, holding for a count of 10 and then relaxing. Move slowly up through your body contracting and relaxing your muscles.
  • Organize yourself mentally and physically. Develop a schedule by marking deadlines and exam dates on a calendar. Be realistic about how much material you can study in one sitting. Schedule short study sessions rather than longer ones. Cramming for the test the night before may cause anxiety. Set aside some time each week to review your notes.
  • Creating learning aids can help you prepare for an exam and alleviate your anxiety. Use flashcards, charts, timelines, or outlines. Sometimes looking at things may help you to better remember the material rather than just reading it. You need to know how you learn best and use that to your advantage to help reduce your anxiety. Take a practice test the day before with conditions as much like the real test environment as possible.
  • Sleep well the night before the test. Do not try to cram and stay up late drinking caffeine. You are more likely to be tired and irritable the day of the test. Go to sleep early and get up early so you don’t have to rush to get to the exam. You can also review key points before the exam. Sit in a location that is free from distraction.
  • Sit by yourself and try not to talk to anyone before the test. Anxiety is contagious.
  • Approach the exam with confidence. View the exam as an opportunity to show how much you have studied and to receive a reward for all the studying you have done.
  • Don’t forget to eat. Your brain needs fuel to function. Drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary drinks, which can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall. Caffeinated drinks can increase your anxiety.

During the test you can:

  • Read the directions carefully.
  • Budget your time.
  • Change positions to help you relax. If you feel anxious, practice your relaxation techniques.
  • Skip a question if you do not know it or if you go blank. Focus your attention on the test. Don’t waste time thinking about not doing well or wondering what others are doing.
  • Don’t panic if others finish before you. There is no reward for finishing first.
  • For essay exams, organize your thoughts in an outline. Start with a short summary or sentence and then make your points.
  • For objective exams, think about your own answer first before looking at the choices. Eliminate wrong answers and make a guess. Think about only one question at a time. Review your answers if time permits at the end of the exam.
  • If time is running out, concentrate on the questions you know well. Use time allowed for reviewing your answers. Only change answers if you are unsure of yourself.

When the test is over, reward yourself for having tried. Don’t go over the test questions with others. There is no point in doing that since you cannot change your answers.

Learning to beat test anxiety takes time, but facing it will help you learn stress management, which can be applied in many situations besides test-taking.

 

APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2014). Overcoming Test Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/overcoming-test-anxiety/00019250
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Apr 2014
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

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