For most students, the end of the school year is exciting because it means that the freedom of summer break is right around the corner. However, before students can begin to enjoy summer break, they must get past the one thing that many dread the most… testing! For our 3rd-12th grade students, it’s the end-of-grade tests and state exams. For our college students, it’s finals. With the end of the school year fast approaching, many of these students are likely already experiencing test anxiety. This is a term we hear a lot, but what exactly is test anxiety? What causes it? And how can we overcome test anxiety?
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that we experience when pressure from high expectations or the fear of failure interfere with our ability to perform well when taking tests. Having some nervous feelings before a test is normal. In fact, these feelings are helpful because they keep our minds alert and focused. However, too much test anxiety can have the opposite effect, making it difficult to recall information or think clearly. Serious test anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms, such as, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, dry mouth, sweaty palms, headaches, upset stomach, nausea & vomiting, shaking, fainting, or even panic attacks. In addition to physical symptoms, those with test anxiety may experience emotional symptoms, like low self-esteem, frustration, irritability, fear, or helplessness. If this sounds like you or your child, then how can you begin to manage your test anxiety?
Here are some test taking tips to help you during this exam season:
- Prepare Well- Feeling prepared for a test ahead of time can help reduce your anxiety on test day, while cramming only increases it. Consider joining a study group or finding a tutor if the material is challenging. Also, be sure to learn all you can about the format of the test beforehand, such as how many or what types of questions will be on it.
- Be Mindful of Self-Talk – Watch out for unrealistic or negative thoughts. It can be easy to go down this road, but try to think about what you are telling yourself, how rational it is, and if there’s something better you could say. For example, if you find yourself saying “I have to do well on this exam,” challenge that thought with “Even if I don’t do well, it’s not the end of the world.” Or, if you say “I’m gonna fail this exam,” remind yourself of all the times you’ve successfully taken exams in the past.
- Visualize Success- Picture yourself on exam day feeling confident and doing well on the exam. If you visualize successful completion of the test, it can help you make it happen in real life!
- Use Relaxation Techniques– While studying for your test, practice deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation and be sure to take breaks! Some of these strategies can also be used during the test when you start to feel overwhelmed!
- Stay Healthy- Students often neglect their physical health when preparing for exams, which can worsen test anxiety. Be sure to get adequate sleep, eat nutrient-rich foods, regulate caffeine intake, and make time for physical movement during the time leading up to the test. On test day, remember to eat an adequate meal and avoid excess caffeine.
- Have Grace for Yourself- Remember that a little bit of anxiety before a test is healthy, so don’t be upset with yourself for this! Accept this feeling and realize that it helps you stay motivated. Try to let go of perfectionism. Remember that it is impossible to know everything! When studying, focus on the major concepts first and then return to the less important information if you have time.
- Reward Yourself- Plan something to look forward to after the test to celebrate your completion. This does not have to be big, and elaborate! Just make sure to take some time to relax and debrief afterward. You worked so hard! Be proud of yourself! If you have multiple exams, try to allow at least a small break before studying for the next one.
If you would like more personalized help with ongoing test anxiety for you or your child, our therapists would be happy to help you develop and implement specific test taking strategies in your life. Contact us here.