It’s normal to be nervous before taking a test. Sometimes those nervous feelings help motivate you to study before the test and focus while taking the test. But for people with test anxiety, a type of performance anxiety, those anxious feelings interfere with the ability to perform and demonstrate their mastery of a certain subject.
Test anxiety is a common and difficult problem. It’s frustrating to have learned the material by studying long and hard, only to score poorly on a test due to excessive anxiety.
Symptoms of test anxiety
To begin dealing with test anxiety, it’s necessary to identify what symptoms are occurring. In other words, how does the anxiety take over your ability to perform your best? Do you:
- Stare at the page because your mind goes blank?
- Forget the material even though you know it?
- Find it difficult to focus?
- Tell yourself you can’t succeed?
- Compare yourself to other students?
You may experience other symptoms not listed; anxiety has many ways of manifesting itself. Some people feel no outward signs of anxiety at all, yet still under-perform. For instance, they do not take the test seriously because they are afraid to face disappointment if they try their best and still not get the score that they want.
Some people experience physical symptoms, including headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, or light-headedness.
Managing test anxiety
Fortunately, there are healthy ways to manage test anxiety. Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, a psychiatrist with the Mayo Clinic, offers these strategies:
- Learn how to study efficiently.There are many study techniques out there, but find a method that works best for you. Try researching online or ask an instructor.
- Establish a consistent study routine. Once you learn what study methods work for you, follow the same steps every time you get ready to take a test. The repetition of a tried and true method could ease your stress level and assure you that you’re well-prepared.
- Learn relaxation techniques. There are a number of relaxation techniques you can use right before and during a test to help you stay calm. Try deep breathing, relaxing your muscles one at a time, or closing your eyes and imagining a positive outcome.
- Don’t forget to eat and drink. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a balanced meal the day of a test. Avoid sugary drinks as they can cause your blood sugar to peak and then drop. Also avoid caffeinated beverages like energy drinks and coffee, which can increase anxiety.
- Get plenty of sleep. Try to get a good night’s sleep the day before a test. You’ll be more refreshed and able to retain the information you’ve worked so hard to master.
- Talk to your instructor. Make sure you understand what’s going to be on the test so you can prepare the best you can. Also, let your instructor know that you feel anxious when taking tests. He or she may have suggestions to help you succeed.
- See a professional counselor, if necessary. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) with a psychologist or other mental health provider can help you work through feelings, thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen anxiety.
If you’re feeling anxious on the days leading up to the test, try these self-reflection exercises.
In a quiet and calm place, ask yourself:
- What am I saying to myself to worsen my anxiety?
- Why is this test intimidating for me?
Write down the answers to these questions, then close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths. This type of breathing helps to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. Let every breath you take increase your confidence and intention to do well on tests.
Now, open your eyes and write down the positive response to each negative self-statement you have written down. Take your positive responses and repeat them to yourself. Do this until they feel true to you. This can take time, but keep repeating them as you go about your day and over time, these statements will feel more comfortable.
Last, do your own test-taking visualization. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Let your nervous system calm down and your body relax. Repeat your positive self-statements several times.
Working through this type of anxiety is difficult and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for you. It’s important to remember that a crucial aspect of managing test anxiety is to never give up.
About the Author
I am currently the Director of Admissions at the Phoenix, Arizona CollegeAmerica campus. I have worked in the Private Post-Secondary industry for over 24 years and held many different positions at both ground and online colleges. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and utilize many aspects of that education every day. I believe in lifelong learning. There is always something we don’t know and can learn to better ourselves. This is why I have dedicated myself to education. I truly love seeing our students come in with a glimmer of hope and us guiding them to find a better life and career. Watching the students walk across at graduation and knowing I had a role in helping them is the most rewarding feeling.