Published on May 9, 2014
Test Anxiety and ways to cope: Test Anxiety and ways to cope By Col Mukteshwar Prasad( Retd ) Based on About.com Psychology A Brief Overview of Test Anxiety : A Brief Overview of Test Anxiety You paid attention in class, took detailed notes, read every chapter and even attended extra study sessions after class, so you should do great on that big exam, right? When the test is presented, however, you find yourself so nervous that you blank out the answers to even the easiest questions. If this experience sounds familiar, then you might be suffering from what is known as test anxiety . Test anxiety can, at the very least, be uncomfortable, and, at its most extreme, test anxiety can hurt students’ performances on exams, making them unable to show what they know. Anxiety about taking tests can be particularly stressful when students are taking high-stakes exams, such as state-mandated tests given in public schools and private school or interviews Social anxiety in which fear about scrutiny by parents, teachers, and professors interferes with your ability to perform well in an exam situation. What Is Text Anxiety? : What Is Text Anxiety? Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations. While many people experience some degree of stress and anxiety before and during exams, test anxiety can actually impair learning and hurt test performance. A little bit of nervousness can actually be helpful, making you feel mentally alert and ready to tackle the challenges presented in an exam. Excessive fear, on the other hand, can make it difficult to concentrate and you might struggle to recall things that you have studied. Understanding Test Anxiety : Understanding Test Anxiety Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. In situations where the pressure is on and a good performance counts, people can become so anxious that they are actually unable to do their best. Other examples of performance anxiety: A high school basketball player becomes very anxious before a big game. A violin student becomes extremely nervous before a recital. While people have the skills and knowledge to do very well in these situations, their excessive anxiety impairs their performance. The severity of test anxiety can vary considerably from one person to another. Some people might feel like they have "butterflies" in their stomach and while others might find it difficult to concentrate on the exam. Others might experience a racing heartbeat and a sense of shakiness. In the most severe cases, people can feel nauseous and short of breath or might even experience a full-blown panic attack. The Symptoms of Test Anxiety: The Symptoms of Test Anxiety Common Symptoms of Test Anxiety Many people experience stress or anxiety before an exam. In fact, a little nervousness can actually help you perform your best. When this distress becomes so excessive that it actually interferes with performance on an exam, it is known as test anxiety . Symptoms of Test Anxiety The symptoms of test anxiety can vary considerably and range from mild to severe. Some students experience only mild symptoms of test anxiety and are still able to do fairly well on exams. Other students are nearly incapacitated by their anxiety, performing dismally on tests or even experiencing panic attacks before or during exams. Physical symptoms of test anxiety include sweating, shaking, rapid heart beat, dry mouth, fainting and nausea. Milder cases of test anxiety can cause a sense of "butterflies" in the stomach, while more severe cases can actually cause students to become physically ill. The Symptoms of Test Anxiety..: The Symptoms of Test Anxiety.. Cognitive and behavioral symptoms can include fidgeting or outright avoidance of testing situations. In some cases, test anxiety can become so severe that students will drop out of school in order to avoid the source of their fear. Substance abuse can also occur, since many students attempt to self-treat their anxiety by taking "downers" such as prescription medications and alcohol. Many people with test anxiety report "blanking out" answers to the test, even though they thoroughly studied the information and were sure that they know the answers to the questions. Negative self-talk, trouble concentrating on the test and racing thoughts are also common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety. The Symptoms of Test Anxiety..: The Symptoms of Test Anxiety.. Emotional symptoms of test anxiety can include depression, low self-esteem, anger and a feeling of hopelessness. Students often feel helpless to change their situation, or belittle and berate themselves about their symptoms and poor test performance. Fortunately, there are steps that students can take to alleviate these unpleasant and oftentimes harmful symptoms. By learning more about the possible causes of their test anxiety, students can begin to look for helpful solutions. If test anxiety has been affecting your exam performance, then be sure to check out these great tips from Kelly Roell , About.com's Guide to Test Prep, on overcoming test anxiety . What Causes Test Anxiety?: What Causes Test Anxiety? The Potential Causes of Test Anxiety Though very stressful for students who suffer from it, we must realize that is actually quite common. Nervousness and anxiety are perfectly normal reactions to stress. For some people, however, this fear can become so intense that it actually interferes with their ability to perform well on a test. So what causes test anxiety? For many students, it can be a combination of things. Bad study habits, poor past test performance and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety. What Causes Test Anxiety?..: What Causes Test Anxiety?.. Biological Causes of Test Anxiety In stressful situations, such as before and during an exam, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This helps prepare the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response . Essentially, this response prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or escape the situation entirely. In a lot of cases, this adrenaline rush is actually a good thing. It helps prepare you to deal effectively with stressful situations, ensuring that you are alert and ready. For some people, however, the symptoms of anxiety they feel can become so excessive that it makes it difficult or even impossible to focus on the test. Symptoms such as nausea, sweating and shaking hands can actually make people feel even more nervous, especially if they become preoccupied with test anxiety symptoms. What Causes Test Anxiety?..: What Causes Test Anxiety?.. Mental Causes of Test Anxiety In addition to the underlying biological causes on anxiety, there are many mental factors that can play a role in test anxiety. Student expectations are one major mental factor. For example, if a student believes that she will perform poorly on an exam, she is far more likely to become anxious before and during a test. Test anxiety can also become a vicious cycle. After experiencing anxiety during one exam, students may become so fearful about it happening again that they actually become even more anxious during the next exam. After repeatedly enduring test anxiety, students may begin to feel helpless to change their situation. Is There a Cure For Anxiety? : Is There a Cure For Anxiety? A cure for anxiety does not really exist. Social Anxiety Disorder can be treated successfully with medication, therapy or a combination of the two methods. However, although treatment will relieve the symptoms of anxiety, it is important to remain vigilant against the disorder throughout your life. You likely have a genetic predisposition toward anxiety and need to ensure that you take steps to prevent relapse as soon as you notice a recurrence of symptoms. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 1. Prepare Well/ Overlearn the Material by Pacing Your Studying The first step to overcoming test anxiety is to make sure that you are adequately prepared. Practicing sound study skills will help you perform up to your potential—and feel calmer on test day. Good study habits involve pacing your studying over time instead of cramming the night before an exam. Studying over several days helps you avoid fatigue, study efficiently, and retain the material in your long-term memory. While it may seem tempting to put off studying until the last minute, it will actually help you feel calmer and study better if you break down your studying over a few nights. If you are taking a standardized test, be sure to have taken several timed practice tests before the actual test day so you be better able to pace yourself on the test and so that you know exactly what to expect on test day. When you take the test, you will feel more comfortable and better prepared. Give yourself enough time to learn material well. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 1. Prepare Well/ Overlearn the Material by Pacing Your Studying … Not sure how to study correctly? Ask friends for help who you know study regularly and do well, join a study group, read books about study skills, or find a study skills tutor. Finally, find out what you can about the test or exam in advance such as the types of questions and length, so that there will be no last minute surprises. Cramming for a test or exam will only increase anxiety. 2. Get An Overview of the Test If you feel panicked while taking a test, read it over and get an overview of the types of questions and how much each question is worth. That way, you can feel more in charge of your time and budget your time appropriately while taking the test. If possible, ask your teacher in advance what the format of the test will be so that you will feel prepared. If you are stumped by one question, try to move on and return to the question that you could not get after racking up points on other parts of the test. If you can, save time at the end of the test to go back and review and revise your work. Remember—there is no prize for finishing early on tests, so be sure to take all the time you have. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 3. Work with Your Teacher If you feel very anxious or unsure about an upcoming test, be sure to meet with your teacher and ask his or her suggestions about how to prepare for the test, how to combat anxiety during the test, and how to do better. Just having a conversation with your teacher can make you feel calmer and more relaxed during the next exam 4. Watch Self-Talk When performance suffers because of test anxiety it can be easy to fall into a downward spiral of negative thinking. It is important to watch what you say to yourself and replace any negative thoughts with positive ones. Consider how rational your thoughts are and whether there are better things you could say to yourself. Thoughts such as, "I should have studied more", "I must be stupid", and "I have to do well, everything is on the line" are not helpful. Tell yourself, "STOP" and come up with alternatives such as "I am prepared for this test", "I am smart enough to do well", and "Even if I don't do well, it's not the end of the world“. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 5. Visualize Success Elite athletes visualize themselves being successful in competition. You can do the same to overcome test anxiety. While studying, imagine yourself feeling confident and clearheaded in the exam. Visualizing yourself doing well on the test can help you to make it happen in real life. 6. Relaxation Strategies Make use of relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and guided imagery. Use these strategies in the weeks leading up to a test, and during the testing situation as needed. 7. Stay Healthy Exams, particularly finals, can be so stressful that it can be tempting to let your health slide, but you should pay particular attention to your health during these stressful times. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. Sleep not only makes you feel better and less stressed, getting enough shuteye also improves your memory. That means that the material you are trying to learn has a better chance of becoming encoded into your long-term memory if you sleep on it. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 7. Stay Healthy.. Again, break your studying down into nightly chunks and then hit the hay—as sleep will enable you to recall what you’ve learned the next day. Try to avoid relaxing by using electronic devices , as the light from such devices has been shown to interfere with sleep. Instead, unplug from all electronic devices about an hour before bed, if you can, and don’t keep these devices near your bed, even to re-charge them, as the light might get in the way of sleep. In addition, practice stress reduction techniques, such as yoga, meditation, and listening to soothing music. Don't fall into this trap! Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are all important components of a lifestyle that will keep stress at a minimum. The day of a test, be sure to eat an adequate breakfast and avoid caffeine as it will only contribute to anxiety. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 8. Arrive Early Nothing will heighten anxiety like the feeling of rushing to get to a test. Arrive at least 10 minutes early. If waiting for the test to begin makes you nervous, bring a magazine or something along to keep your mind occupied. Avoid people who are anxious before a test and do not second guess what you know. 9. Focus During the Test During the test, do everything you can to maintain focus. If you find yourself becoming anxious, stop and regroup. Sharpen your pencil, ask a question, or focus on taking deep breaths . Remember to take your time but check your watch to pace yourself. Before starting the test, do a quick review and read directions twice. Start with the easiest questions first. 10. Accept a Little Anxiety Recognize that a little bit of anxiety before a test is a good thing. If you did not feel nervous at all, you might not be motivated to do your best. It is only when anxiety becomes unmanageable that it is a problem. Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety : Tips for Coping With Test Anxiety 11. Expect Setbacks If you have a bad experience, realize that there will always be roadblocks along the way. Plan for a better experience next time and know that one bad test result does not mean that you can't improve in the future. 12. Reward Yourself Plan a reward for yourself after the test. Take some time to relax and clear your mind. Do not dwell on mistakes you may have made or worry about how you did. Whenever possible, give yourself a break before starting to study for another test.