Test anxiety is a common experience that many students have before taking an assessment or during the actual exam. It is frustrating to draw a blank during an assessment or to become so nervous that you cannot concentrate enough to answer the questions.
There are many interrelated factors that cause anxiety—often fear of failure, fear of how others will view you if you perform poorly, and concern about past performances. There are a number of ways to tame test anxiety, which may be robbing you of the satisfaction associated with passing an assessment
Being well prepared is the initial step to managing test anxiety. Poor preparation or last-minute cramming for an assessment will only increase anxiety. Give yourself plenty of time to learn material well. Work with your instructor to ensure that you are properly prepared. You also want to ensure that you are using good test-taking strategies.
It is easy to fall into a downward spiral of negative thinking when performance suffers due to test anxiety. Be careful about what you say to yourself. Replace any negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Consider how rational your thoughts are and whether there are better things you could say to yourself. If you find yourself saying, "I should have studied more," stop yourself and substitute a positive statement such as, "I am prepared for this test!"
Visualizing yourself doing well on the assessment can help you to make it happen in real life. While studying, imagine yourself feeling confident, calm, focused, and clearheaded in the assessment. Elite athletes use this technique when preparing for success in competition. You can do the same to overcome test anxiety!
Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help you control anxiety during the assessment.
Use these strategies in the weeks leading up to an assessment, and during the testing situation as needed. For deep breathing, inhale to the count of five and exhale to a count of five using your diaphragm.
Do not neglect your health! Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are all important components of a lifestyle that will keep stress at a minimum. On the day of an assessment, be sure to eat an adequate breakfast (perhaps some protein) and avoid caffeine, as it will only contribute to anxiety.
To read more about strategies for coping with test anxiety, visit the Student Success Center.
Student Success Specialist Tracey Kell works specifically with students struggling in the area of test anxiety and stress, teaching coping strategies.