Do You Suffer from Test Anxiety

What is Test Anxiety?

Before taking an exam do you experience:

Having physical symptons, such as faintness, feeling too hot or cold, headaches, nausea, etc.

Having emotional symptons, such as feeling irritable, becoming frustrated quickly, or crying easily.

Cloudy thinking, moments of blanking out or racing thoughts that you find difficult to control.

These are the most common signs of test anxiety that most students experience during their college years. It is perfectly normal to be a little nervous before an exam, which actually increases your adrenaline output to motivate you to do your best.  Uncontrollable nervousness however contributes to test anxiety. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to minimize it, so that you can do your best. First we need to see exams as being like a game.

How to Control Test Anxiety Before the Game (Exam)

It best to think of an examination as a game. The same way you prepare for a game, is almost the same way you prepare for an exam. The following are a few steps you might consider to help you prepare for your game.

Let's Get Real -  One game doesn't determine who goes to the championship nor does one exam determine your academic future.  There will be other exams but of course, we want to do our best.

Time 2 Sweat (Mentally) - In order increase your confidence in what you know you need to practice, practice, practice.  The major cause of test anxiety is due to cramming - studying a few hours or the night before an exam. No great sports team achieve success through cramming. All of the greats became great through practice. This means ask your instructors if they have any practice exams.  Participate in study groups and tutoring session to learn how to solve difficult problems.  Visit resource centers like the Student Success Center (SSC) or Mathematic Resource Center (MRC) to see if they have any practice exams. These are all ways to practice before your big game.

Mentally Prepare -  There are moments during practice you may think that you can't do it, but remind yourself that if others have accomplished this same goal, you can too.  The only difference between the individuals that have achieve their goals and those who haven't is that the former worked hard to get what they want. You have to tell yourself that you are going to be one of those individuals that achieves success. If need be imagine how you will feel to earn an "A" on your exam. Use this visualization to keep you motivated.

Break! - Your mental muscles need time to recuperate, so schedule to take a study break. During your study break, play a video game, watch a television show, do something relaxing to get your mind off the subject. When the break time is over, get back into preparing for your game. The night before the exam, lay out everything you need, so that you aren't rushing. Try to get a good night sleep.  Avoid foods with caffeine, sugar and alcohol, which have the tendency to make one nervous and jittery during an exam. Instead drink more water and protein foods such as nuts, protein bars, etc.

Put Your Game Face On! - It is all about attitude. No team goes out on the court or field with a negative attitude. If they did what would be the purpose of competing? You have to step into your game with a prepared and positive attitude that you will do your best. When you arrive, avoid as much as possible talking to other students who may lead you to lose your focus. Also try to refrain from thumbing through your notes.  Relax. This is game day. Enter class with a positive, competive attitude knowing that you studied and will do your best.  Sit where there will be a minimum of distractions. The time has come to play your game and it is going to be okay.

How to Control Test Anxiety During the Game (Exam)

All exams are games designed to see how much you know about a given subject. The more you know and can prove it on paper. The more points you get and the better the score. It is like any other game and you have to approach test taking from this same perspective.

The Moment of Truth - The first thing you need to do is take a breath. Relax. Slow your breathing. Don't Panic. Now, implement the test taking technique you learned. Read the directions of your exam slowly. It may help to go through the exam to see if any of the problems appear to be very familiar. If so put an asterisk (*) next to those problems. If not, jot down in the margin notes, formulas, etc. on the front or back on the page to refer back to, then begin.

RELAX! - If you find yourself worrying during an exam, calm yourself down by taking a breath and slow your breathing.  You know this material because you studied it. You simply need to demonstrate your knowlege of it, so relax and transfer what you know on to paper.

RELAX!! - This cannot be overstated. When your breathing becomes erratic, your muscles tense and you will not be able to recall what you know. You simply need to relax, so take a deep breath, stretch your arms and legs.  Take a drink of water or even chew some gum. If your instructor allows, leave the room for a moment to clear your mind. Then, get back into the game.

Expect the Unexpected - Life is not predictable, so there is no reason you should expect examinations to be the same way. There are usually going to be some "curve balls" or "trick shots" on the exam. When you see them, don't come unnerved.  Relax. Don't dwell on the problem. Skip that problem for now and return to it later, but don't leave it blank.  Remember, most instructors give partial credit for attempting a problem, and it is better to have some points then no points at all.

Break the Exam Into Parts -  Every game consists of parts such as two halves in soccer, four quarters in basketball and football, etc. so break your game up into small parts as well.  You might want to focus on the easiest problems first and then the hardest problems later, or mix it up.  When you finish each section, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Again, think of the exam as a game, so don't get overwhelmed. Relax and play your game.

What to do After the Exam

It's Compensation Time - Horray! It's over, so what is the best thing you can do right now? Take the night off and go see a movie or go out to dinner with your friends. You can't change your performance, so you need to move forward and partake in positive activities.

Visit with College Instructor - communicate with your instructor after the exam and let him or her know that you experience test anxiety. This visitation reveals your desire and true intent to do well in the course, so your instructor may be able to offer you some tips on how to manage the anxiety as well prepare for future exams. Believe it or not, your instructor was a college student before too.

Need for Academic Assistance - Following your instructor's advice, you may consider getting additional assistance in learning how to manage your time, develop better study skills, memory techniques, practice exams, etc.  Many of these resources are available in the MRC.

Whatever Works -  Every technique doesn't work everybody, so select the best one or two techniques that work for you.  Keep a record of the technique you used and your progress, so you can use this technique for future exams. Try these techniques with practice exams to see their effectiveness. If it doesn't work during the practice exam, then throw it out and use another.

For More Information on Test Anxiety, visit the following links:

The best relaxation techniques to take before and druing the test.
An interactive multi-media presentation on Test Anxiety created by a college instructor.
Stress management techniques for reducing test anxiety.

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