Test Anxiety

Text anxiety is common for students no matter what their academic level.  A little anxiety is a good thing - it kicks you into gear to study and work hard to meet your goals.  It's when it gets to the point that it makes you feel overwhelmed or physically ill that it stops being helpful and becomes debilitating. 

What causes it?

Anxiety about test taking can come from a lot of things.  If you have a history of bad experiences connected with taking tests that can carry over to a new environment even though you may be a very different person than you were before.  Lack of training in preparing for exams and dealing with a variety of exam questions can trigger significant anxiety.  If you have crammed for an exam or know that your grasp of concepts and terms is shaky at best you should be anxious.  Distractions in the classroom before and during the exam can also contribute to a sense of uneasiness that effects your concentration.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Before the exam:
  1. Try to put things in perspective.  Realistically what is the worst that could happen if you don't do well?  Will the world end? Will you be homeless? Will you starve?  None of those things are very likely.  Keep in mind that one exam does not make or break your chances for success.  Work on your attitude.  Make sure that you use positive self talk.  Yes, you are smart enough; you can do this.
  2. Take the edge off the test.  Put yourself through a few practice runs.  Make up your own test and actually take it - quiet room, little desk, time limit - the works.  It will help you get control of the anxious feelings when it is time for the real thing and it will help you prepare more effectively.
  3. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Study actively so that you are constantly testing yourself on the material and don't wait until the last minute to get started.  If you try to stuff one or two months worth of course information into your head in one day you will end up overloaded, exhausted, confused, stressed and anxious.  That is not likely to give you results you'll feel good about.
  4. Stay away from the classroom and your classmates if their nervous chatter is a distraction.  Come in just on time, and stay focused.
During the exam:
  1. Breathe.  Take a deep breath, exhale slowly - if you keep at it your heart will stop racing. 
  2. Look the test over and budget your time.  If you tend to rush through and then bolt, force yourself to read slowly and consider each question carefully.  If you have trouble finishing, allow yourself a set amount of time for each section or question.  Leave a few minutes at the end to go back and finish parts that you didn't get to or would like to reconsider. 
  3. Every ten minutes straighten up, relax your shoulders, breathe…..then go back to the test.