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Overcoming Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a feeling of agitation and distress associated with test taking, which impacts your ability to study or perform on the test. Some anxiety is natural and helps to keep you mentally and physically alert, but too much may cause physical distress, emotional upset, and concentration difficulties.

The Effects and Causes of Test Anxiety

Physiological reactions to anxiety may include rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, queasiness, dry mouth, or perspiration.

Behavioral reactions may include and inability to act, make decisions, express yourself, or to deal with everyday situations.

Psychological reactions may include feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, upset, and self-doubt.

Who is likely to have test anxiety?

The High Achieving Student

Students who have high expectations of themselves or who are perfectionists are likely to struggle with test anxiety. These students tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves and have a hard time dealing with mistakes. This can easily lead to these students becoming overwhelmed during the test, resulting in their mind freezing or going blank.

The Unprepared Student

Students who haven’t properly prepared for a test are also likely to deal with test anxiety. This usually happens because the student put off studying too long or simply does not understand the material. This can lead to low confidence when it’s time to take the test. And when students go into a test thinking they’re going to fail, it can lead to it actually happening.

Signs of Test Anxiety

  • Freezing or “going blank” during tests
  • Worrying about forgetting material while studying
  • Feeling like he or she has never done enough to prepare
  • A feeling of doom or fear of failure during tests or exams
  • Difficulty concentrating while studying for upcoming tests
  • Performing well in class or on homework, but failing to do well when tested
  • A lack of confidence
  • Physical symptoms before a test

What Can Be Done

Changing Your Attitude

Improving your beliefs and attitudes about the test-taking experience can actually help you enjoy studying and may improve your performance. Don't overplay the importance of the grade - it is not a reflection of your self-worth, nor does it predict your future success. Try the following:

  • Remember that the most reasonable expectation is to try to show as much of what you know as you can.
  • Remind yourself that a test is only a test - there will be others.
  • Avoid thinking of yourself in irrational, all-or-nothing terms.
  • Reward yourself after the test - watch a movie, go out to eat, or visit with friends.
Attend to the Basics

Students preparing for tests often neglect basic biological, emotional, and social needs. Remember to:

  • Have good nutrition and exercise habits.
  • Follow a moderate pace when studying and take breaks when needed.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before the test.
The Day of the Test

To be able to do your best on the day of the test we suggest the following:

  • Begin your day with a moderate breakfast and avoid coffee if you are prone to "caffeine jitters."
  • Try to do something relaxing the hour before the test - last minute cramming will cloud your mastering of the overall concepts of the course.
  • Plan to arrive at the test location early - this will allow you to relax and to select a seat located away from doors, windows, and other distractions.
  • Avoid classmates who generate anxiety and tend to upset your stability.
  • If waiting for the test to begin causes anxiety, distract yourself by reading a magazine or newspaper.
During the Test: Basic Strategies
  • First review the entire test, and read the directions twice. Try to think of the test as an opportunity to show the professor what you know. Organize your time efficiently; work on the easiest portions of the test first.
  • For essay questions, construct a short outline for yourself - then begin your answer with a summary sentence. For short-answer questions, answer only what is asked - short and to the point. If you have difficulty with an item involving a written response, show what knowledge you can. If proper terminology evades you, show what you know with your own words
  • For multiple choice questions, read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious. Unsure of the correct response? Rely on your first impression, then move on quickly. Beware of tricky qualifying words such as "only," "always," or "most."
  • Do not rush through the test. Wear a watch and check it frequently as you pace yourself. If it appears you will be unable to finish the entire test, concentrate on those portions that you can answer well. Recheck your answers only if you have extra time - and only if you are not anxious.
During the Test: Anxiety Control

Curb excess anxiety in any of the following ways:

  • Tell yourself, "I can be anxious later, now is the time to take the exam."
  • Focus on answering the question, not on your grade or others' performances.
  • Counter negative thoughts with other, more valid thoughts like, "I don't have to be perfect."
  • Tense and relax muscles throughout your body; take a couple of slow deep breaths and try to maintain a positive attitude.
  • If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Ask the instructor a question.
  • Think for a moment about the post-exam reward you promised yourself.
After the Test

Whether you did well or not, be sure to follow through on the reward you promised yourself - and enjoy it!