t’s that time of the year again when students everywhere are bombarded with finals. For many, this is simply a stressful time to get through with a little extra studying. However, it can be much more for those who experience test anxiety! If you are one of the thousands of people who suffer from test anxiety, you know what it is and that it can affect your performance and your grades!
What is Test Anxiety?
Simply put, test anxiety is extreme worry and self-doubt about one’s ability to take and pass a test. Notice the word “extreme” included there- this isn’t simply being nervous about your finals, but rather a debilitating disorder that can seriously hurt your ability to perform well during test taking.
It is estimated that 40-60% of all students experience a level of anxiety that interferes with their performance during tests. For some students, this anxiety is so extreme that they are not able to complete tests at all and some may drop out of school altogether. This is really unfortunate because having test anxiety in no way reflects your overall ability to learn or to master the material that you have been taught.
Does Having Test Anxiety Mean I’m Less Intelligent?
Absolutely not! In fact, research shows that quite the opposite is true and that those students who are more intelligent are more likely to experience anxiety. Researchers wondered why this is so and found several different factors that might be the cause. Consider these:
People who are more intelligent may actually think more than their counterparts which may lead to over-thinking, a known component of anxiety
Intelligent people may have greater self-awareness which leads to a desire to perform better. This added stress may be the cause of anxiety
Intelligence can give higher levels of empathy which can cause the student to sense the fear and anxiety of others around them, increasing their own anxiety
The need to have others in their lives think of them as smart may increase the pressure to do well, causing anxiety
How to Prepare for a Test
Key to coping with test anxiety is to start prepping for the test well in advance. You can’t expect to overcome this problem in a day and, you will probably want to develop a routine to follow prior to every test.
Try some of these tips leading up to your test:
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Start studying well in advance of any test on your schedule. You will be able to remember things better if you try to learn them in smaller chunks than if you try to cram it all in your head the night before the test.
Try studying with a partner! It can help you stay on track, to stay focused, and to figure out any subject matter that you’re struggling with.
Talk to your teacher beforehand and let them know about your test anxiety. They may be able to help or offer some useful tips to make your test easier. Maybe you can do some extra credit which can help to take off some pressure to do well on the test.
Choose your place to study carefully! Find someplace quiet and distraction-free. Some place where your friends won’t come and tempt you away from your studies!
Try chewing gum while studying for your test. Studies show that this can help by increasing blood flow to the head (and brain), which will help you to learn better and faster. This tip only works while studying though! Chewing gum during the actual test doesn’t help at all.
Try visualization exercises. Find someplace quiet and get into a comfortable position. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting or lying down. Then close your eyes and mentally walk yourself through your test day. Try to be very detailed in your visualization and make it as realistic as possible. See yourself calmly sitting and working through the questions without panicking or getting anxious. See yourself knowing the answers and doing well on the exam. See yourself remaining calm and succeeding. For the best results, you may have to do this several times leading up to a test.
7. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself about taking tests. Do you put yourself down? Maybe call yourself names or tell yourself that it’s hopeless? These types of negative thoughts will only hurt your ability to do well on an exam and you need to challenge them. When you notice a thought like this, immediately change it into something less negative. Maybe try telling yourself that you are going to try your best and that however it turns out, it will be good enough. Or tell yourself that your worth as a person isn’t determined by a single test or by a grade. The people who love you will continue to love you regardless of how you do on a test.
8. Work exercise into your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be extreme exercise, taking a walk, going dancing, jumping rope, or playing with your dog- these are all exercises that can help you conquer your anxiety and to stay calmer.
9. Try and get a good night’s sleep the night before your exam. Being able to think clearly during your exam will help so much more than late-night cramming!
10. Some deep breathing before you go into the test may help to keep you calm. This helps because deep breathing actually helps to reverse the fight or flight response in your body. For more on the topic, see my earlier blog here.
And here are some things to try while you’re taking your test:
Stop studying for your exam about 1 hour before it starts. If you don’t already know it, that last hour won’t really help anyways and trying to cram in information at the last minute like this can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
Make sure that you eat and drink some water prior to going into the exam. Go to the bathroom right before you head off to your test.
Give yourself plenty of time to get there! You don’t want to be rushing to get there on time! This will only lead to increased stress, adding to your anxiety.
Try not to talk to anyone about the test right before taking it! If they’re feeling nervous, their anxiety will only make yours worse. I used to wait until the last minute to walk into tests for this very reason.
Slow down and read each question slowly and carefully. Rushing will only increase your anxiety and may cause you to make a careless mistake.
If you start to panic, stop and take a quick time out to reset. Deep breathing can help here as can some simple muscle relaxation exercises. Try tensing your muscles, then relaxing them.
If you get to a question that you don’t understand, ask the instructor for clarification. They’re usually more than happy to do this, so don’t be shy about it.
If you really get stuck on a question, mark it and move on. It’s better to get that one question wrong than to miss a whole bunch of questions because you didn’t have time to finish after worrying about that one question for too long! Then, if you have the time, you can always go back and try it again. I have found that sometimes questions later in the test can even give you hints on the earlier questions.
I hope that some of these strategies are helpful for you. If you find that you still have lots of anxiety surrounding taking a test, reach out to a professional for help. I would love to talk with you about anxiety treatment that will help you in your studies!