Test anxiety is a common experience amongst students. There is a common misconception that anxiety during a test will “keep the mind sharp”. However, a recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Education found that students with high test anxiety achieve significantly lower test scores than students with low or no anxiety during test taking. Fortunately, it is entirely possible for any student to overcome test anxiety.
In order to address test anxiety as a cause of poor performance on exams, it is first important to ensure that anxiety is the primary issue rather than simple lack of preparation. Individuals with true test anxiety may experience the following symptoms:
-Increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, diarrhea or stomach ache before and/or during testing.
-“Freezing” or developing a mental block during testing that may make it difficult to comprehend questions or even simple words.
-Developing the sensation of panic during the exam when an answer to a question is not known or as the time is running out at the end of the exam.
-Excessive worry during the exam over one’s performance on the test as compared to the other test takers
-Great difficulty concentrating before or during the exam, as well as difficulty focusing one’s attention during studying due to anxious thoughts regarding the upcoming exam.
Once a student has determined that they suffer from test anxiety, there are several tips that can help them lessen the likelihood of experiencing anxiety about a test. In addition, there are specific techniques that can help students overcome anxiety during the actual test taking situations.
Important tips to avoid test anxiety prior to the test include developing an effective study regimen and ensuring that you are well prepared, practicing a simulated test in a classroom environment under similar time constraints, exercising and eating on a regular schedule that is maintained up to and after the test day, choosing one of the anxiety relieving techniques described below and practicing it on a daily basis.
There are several relaxation techniques that can be highly successful in preventing or alleviating test anxiety. These include:
1. Soft belly breathing – Place your hand on your stomach at or below your belly button. When you breathe in let your abdomen expand. Slow your breathing down, breathing in your nose and out your mouth through gently pursed lips. If you have difficulty breathing slowly and deeply try counting to four while you inhale, holding your breath for 6 seconds, and then exhaling to over 8 seconds.
2. Guided imagery – This is actually a form of self-hypnosis that you can use to calm yourself almost instantly by practicing regularly before the exam. Choose a place you find safe and comforting. Imagine the details of all five senses clearly while you breathe naturally and slowly, letting yourself relax completely. If practiced regularly, you need only begin to think of the imagery you have chosen to experience the relaxation that you have associated with it.
3. Mindfulness meditation practiced often (meditation guide here) will decrease overall anxiety levels and provide the skill to maintain clarity and emotional balance during exams.
Test anxiety is common amongst students of all ages. It may significantly interfere with academic performance if not properly addressed. The tips and techniques above can help any student overcome test anxiety.