Most people get a little nervous before they take a test, but some people get really nervous. They get butterflies in their stomach, a headache, their heart races, they start to sweat, and sometimes feel like they are going to pass out or throw up – or both. Even if the symptoms of test anxiety are mild, many students report that the feeling itself is enough to cause their minds to go “blank” to the point that they freeze up and feel like don’t know the answers to the questions – even if the first question is “What is your name?”
If you or someone you love suffers from test anxiety, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Very few people go into a test without feeling at least some bit of stress, and that feeling is actually a good thing! If we didn’t feel stress or worry at all, why would we study or prepare for the tests? Why would we try our hardest? The stress spurs us on to work hard before and during the test.
The difficulty that people who struggle with test anxiety face is that they fear the actual process of taking the test and the test itself. Here are some tips to prepare for the test and to get you through the process:
1. Study! Be prepared for the test. It may sound obvious, but many people who fear tests, don’t even want to think about the test, so they avoid studying for it. When they arrive to take the test, they aren’t prepared, which makes them feel less confident too. They end up not doing as well as they would have had they studied, which reinforces the belief they are not good test-takers. It’s bad cycle, and the only way to break it is to prepare for the test by studying several days in advance. This not only will not only increase your knowledge-base, but it also will increase your confidence.
2. Practice Mental Rehearsal. When you feel anxious about the test, visualize a time when you were successful taking a test or just imagine yourself sitting in your test environment confidently answering questions. The best athletes prepare for an event by using mental rehearsal so that when they actually hit the field they have gone over in their minds what they need to do. You can use this same strategy to your advantage. All-too-often, students mentally rehearse their fears – the worst case scenario. Turn it around and each night before you go to bed, imagine your best self answering the questions on the test with confidence and ease.
3. Take a deep breath. If you feel the anxiety rise within you, take several deep slow breaths. Relax you body. When you feel anxious, you may start to breathe faster, so the slow breaths are a way to encourage your body to relax.
4. Distract Yourself. Don’t perseverate on your worries about the test. Sometimes before the test, you may find yourself telling others (and yourself) how nervous you are and how worried you are that you may not do well. Doing so reinforces the anxiety and gives life to these fears. Plan a fun activity to do after the test and talk about that instead. Distracting yourself from your worries helps to reduce the buildup of stress you will feel before you walk into the test environment.
5. Write down your worries. What’s the worst case scenario and how can you address it? If you don’t do well on the test does your teacher allow you to re-take it? Does your class offer extra-credit? Can you get points in other ways (projects, quizzes, turning in HW on time). Sometimes we also catastrophize the worst-case scenario. Are you really not going to pass 9th grade if you don’t pass one test? Very rarely does life come down to one single test. Hey, you can even take the SAT’s multiple times! Addressing your worries in advance and putting them in realistic perspective can ward off stress before test day.
Taking tests is part of life, but with a little practice and preparation, you can ease your test stress and increase your confidence!