School Anxiety: Tests, Tests, Tests!

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Anxious feelings about taking a test are common and normal. In fact, they can provide motivation to study and focus. However, when anxiety makes it difficult to study beforehand or to perform on test day, that's when it becomes a problem.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can manifest in the body and mind. Similar to general anxiety, test anxiety can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Muscle tension

While anxiety can have a physical manifestation, it often starts in the mind, illustrated as:

  • Blanking out
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lack of concentration
  • Concerns about past performances
  • Worry about the outcome of failure
  • Comparing to other people's abilities

Managing Test Anxiety

The best antidote to test anxiety is preparation. The better you know the material, the more prepared you will be to answer questions. A few tips to improve preparation include:

  • Start studying early. Cramming for a test usually involves trying to learn too much in too short of time, which leads to anxiety.
  • Develop a study plan and schedule that organizes the study materials and provides plenty of time to review the information.
  • Combine like materials from lecture notes, textbooks, observations, and any other sources of information so that you can see all the information on a single topic together.
  • Get help from a teacher, study group or tutor.

Preparation goes a long way to relieving text anxiety, but some people also suffer from negative thinking that can disrupt studying. Some ideas to manage worry include:

  • Have realistic expectations. In most cases, tests are a tool to gauge what you know and don't know and you are not necessarily expected to get every answer correct.
  • Don't think that one test will determine your entire future. In most cases, doing poorly on an exam won't significantly affect your life over the long term. Even college entry exams and career-related exams usually can be retaken.
  • Consciously avoid negative thinking. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, "I never do well on tests," can be replaced with, "I'm learning all the material needed to do well."

Taking care of yourself by eating right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep can keep you alert for studying and reduce stress, as well.

Test Day Anxiety

For many people, anxiety is at its worst on test day. Even with preparation, the actual taking of the exam can lead to debilitating anxiety. To counteract test anxiety:

  • Come to the test prepared with all materials, which can include a writing utensil, paper, calculator, and other items allowed during the test.
  • Avoid talking about the test with others. Anxiety can increase among group members.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.
  • Distract yourself until the test starts by reading a magazine. Avoid reviewing your study material as it may confuse more than clarify.
  • Follow the directions, including writing your name or identifying information on the exam first.
  • Review the exam before starting.
  • Take questions one at a time, reading the entire question before answering.
  • For essay questions, organize and outline your thoughts before writing.
  • Wear a watch or keep track of the time with the clock in the test room. Pace yourself, but don't rush.
  • If your mind goes blank on a question, take action by moving on to the next question. Or, consciously reread the question and review the answers one by one in a multiple choice or by jotting down the first ideas that come to mind in a written response.

For people who suffer from text anxiety, managing the worry and unsettling feelings is more challenging than the test itself. As a result, text takers should reward themselves after taking a test, regardless of the outcome.

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