Countless students experience test anxiety, in many of the same forms that athletes experience competitive anxiety. In fact, the American Test Anxieties Association (www.amtaa.org) reports that, 16-20% of students have high test anxiety and another 18% are troubled by moderately-high test anxiety. Most students can remember a time when they experienced stress about an exam and often this stress can affect the student’s performance on the exam.
So what causes test anxiety? The answer is multi-faceted. Physiologically, the anxiety experienced during a test is no different than anxiety experienced in other environments. When we experience stress, adrenaline is released and puts our body into “fight or flight” mode.
As a result, we begin to sweat, our heart begins to pound, and we breath significantly faster. Emotionally and cognitively, test anxiety may be the result of not preparing for the test properly, a lack of confidence in our abilities in the subject area, or even fear of failure. Consequently, we experience racing thoughts and worry. It’s rare that any one single factor is the culprit in your test anxiety, but rather a combination of a number of factors. Identifying those factors is key to managing and overcoming test anxiety.
Luckily, there are strategies that parents and students can incorporate that will help reduce test anxiety. The most common approaches include ensuring proper study habits and strategies, time management, and increasing confidence. For some students, figuring out where to start in their battle with test anxiety can be almost as stressful as the test anxiety itself.
So where should you start?
First, you need to identify what factors are contributing to your test anxiety. Ask yourself, what are my expectations? Are they realistic? Have I honestly prepared enough to reach those expectations? Am I over-thinking or over-preparing?
Write down the physical reactions you experience when taking a test. Often the physical symptoms we experience during a test begin even before we’ve sat down in the classroom. The sooner we can identify the physical response, the faster we can deal with it, and the less likely it is to spiral out of control.
Next, recognize that some stress about an exam is normal and expected. Trying to eliminate all your stress about an exam is unlikely. Creating a plan well enough in advance of the test will help reduce the anxiety, but maintain enough stress to keep you motivated to study. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or teachers-a little support can go a long way.
Start incorporating breathing exercises (C4Success Blow Breathing) into your daily routine. Practicing these skills on a regular basis will ensure that they will work for you when your anxiety starts to creep up during a test.
Also listen and practice your visualization exercises, (C4Success Best Exam Performance Visualization) these will help build confidence, increase familiarity and give you a further tool in your toolbox to help you recover.
Create practice tests for yourself prior to test day. By completing practice questions in your text books, or making mini-tests to practice as part of your studying will all help you become more comfortable with the test environment and reduce your anxiety.
Lastly, when you sit down to start the test, develop a plan. Take a few moments to flip through the exam and review the format? Note the different types of questions, how many questions, etc. Map out how much time you roughly want to spend on each question, that way you can ensure you don’t fall behind and get more stressed. If you find yourself stuck on a question for too long, leave it and move onto the next one. Staying focused on one question will only increase your anxiety and take time away from completing other questions.
Try to complete all the questions you know first (particularly on multiple choice tests); if you don’t know the answer move on. It may come to you later on, or there may be a question later on that jogs your memory. After you have completed all the questions you know, go back through the test—you may be surprised by how many of them you can now answer.
Test anxiety can be extremely stressful and debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Stay positive, breath, and slow down because if you can do that, then you’ll be better able to conquer the test and score the mark you want. If after trying these techniques, your test anxiety remains a barrier to your school performance, be sure to contact a mental health professional in your area for more help.
By Nic Allen