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How to Conquer Test Anxiety

Have you ever frozen while taking a test?  Have you answered questions incorrectly even when you knew the right answers?  Have you gotten extreme tension before and during an exam?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, it is likely that you have experienced test anxiety at some point in your life.  Some symptoms other than tension can include nervousness, fear, dread, irritability, sense of hopelessness, and boredom.  During an exam, symptoms can also include confusion, panic, mental blocks, fainting, sweaty palms or nausea.  When you are finished with the test, you can experience another set of symptoms like guilt (Why didn’t I study more), anger (The teacher made that too hard on purpose), mock indifference (I didn’t even try because I really don’t care), blame (If the teacher taught better, I would have done better) and depression (I don’t see why I even try)

One of the most common causes of test anxiety is not feeling prepared for the test, and you have to take a test over material that you don’t really know well.   The first thing to try when dealing with test anxiety is to start preparing for a test well in advance.  Make the necessary prep materials like study guides and note cards, and give yourself two or three days to review the material instead of trying to do everything the night before the exam.  If you are stuck on a concept, seek help from a teacher, classmate, or someone who can help explain it to you.

But what about when you’ve prepared well, you know the material inside and out, and you STILL experience test anxiety?  Then it’s time to try some other methods to conquer the anxiety.  It’s important to know that test anxiety has two components, mental and physical.  The mental piece includes your thoughts and worries about the test, and the physical piece includes your feelings, tensions, and sensations.  The following techniques will help you deal with test anxiety, and you will find that you can also apply these to other times when you are feeling anxious as well.

Mental Techniques:

  1. Say STOP. When you start to notice that you are worrying and it’s quickly spinning out of control, tell yourself to STOP.  Yell it in your head, so that you can temporarily stop the cycle of worry.  This will allow you to use the other techniques to conquer the anxiety.


  1. Go away. Take a minute to go away into thoughts of something you like to do or somewhere you like to be.  Daydream about being with a friend or being in a special place.  When you fill your head with pleasant thoughts, there isn’t room for worry or anxiety.


  1. See success. Once you’ve stopped the cycle of worry, see what it looks like to succeed.  Be specific, and create detailed pictures and feelings as part of your visualization.  Most of us live up to our expectations, whether they are good or bad.  Expect and rehearse your success.


  1. Focus on something. Choose one thing and notice everything about it.  See every detail and concentrate your attention on that one object.  Don’t leave any room in your head for anxiety-related thoughts.


  1. Cheer for yourself. Talk to yourself in a positive way, as you would to a friend who was having a hard time with something.  Give yourself some encouragement, and be your own cheerleader instead of telling yourself something negative that you would never say to your best friend.


  1. Think of the worst. If you are still worrying, take your fear to the limit of absurdity by thinking of the worst things that could happen.  For instance, “If I fail this test, I will fail the class.  If I fail the class, I will fail out of school.  If I fail out of school, I won’t be able to get a good job.  If I don’t get a good job, I will have everything I own repossessed.  If I have I own repossessed, I will live as a bum on skid row.”   Keep going until you can see how ridiculous your predictions are, and then go back to if you fail the test and what is really the worst thing that can happen.  Can you recover from that?  If so, then you can let go a little bit knowing that even if the worst happens, you can still deal with it.


Physical Techniques:

  1. Breath. Focus on the air going in and out of your lungs.  If you are taking short breaths, try to make them longer and deeper breaths.  Feel the air going in and out of your nose and mouth.  See the air going in your body and back out into the room.  Do this for 2-5 minutes.


  1. Tense and Relax. Find a muscle that feels tense, and make it even more tense and then relax.  Move on to other muscles.  Clench your firsts, tighten your jaw, straighten your legs, and tense your abdomen all at once, and then relax.


  1. Use Guided Imagery. Relax completely and take a little trip.  Go to a place like a mountain stream or an open meadow full of wildflowers.  Use all five senses to create the scene as completely as you can.  Practice getting to that place quickly so that you can calm your body during a test.


  1. Describe the feeling. Focus on your anxiety, and describe it to yourself.  Tell yourself whether it feels like nausea or a headache, and then explain how big it is, where it is in your body, what color, shape and texture it is, and how heavy it is.


  1. Be with it. Describe the feeling and then be with it.  Let yourself completely experience the physical sensation, and it will often disappear.


  1. Get help. When you are not able to conquer the symptoms of anxiety, get help.  If your anxiety is more serious, and you have become withdrawn, get depressed and stay that way for a few days, or have prolonged feelings of hopelessness, reach out to counselors and other professionals to get help.