Whether it be taking the SAT, ACT, or an everyday school exam, test-taking is never fun. Because exams can influence college admissions decisions or significantly affect your grade, there can be a lot of pressure to perform, especially when. In some cases, test anxiety can be debilitating, causing symptoms like panic attacks, performance anxiety, and feelings of overwhelming dread. The good news is that there are effective ways to overcome test anxiety so you can put forth your best effort with confidence.
Understanding test anxiety
Before you can address test anxiety, you must first understand it. The following symptoms are associated with test anxiety:
- Physical symptoms– Test anxiety can cause various physical symptoms, whether in the days leading up to the exam or during the test itself. These symptoms can include nervous energy, restlessness, sweaty palms, the feeling of a lump in your throat, muscle tension, and insomnia, among others.
- Cognitive-behavioral symptoms –These symptoms include negative self-talk, such as “I can’t do this,” or “I know I’m going to fail this exam.”
- Emotional symptoms – Common emotions that can accompany test anxiety are frustration, sadness, feelings of being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, irritability, and depression.
10 helpful tips for tackling test anxiety
- Study in advance, rather than cramming – Cramming for a test is always stressful. Studying for an exam the morning of, or even the night before, can leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and panicked over your ability to retain the material. Studying in advance, by contrast, will make you more self-assured come test day.
- Take care of your body –Get proper sleep=, both in the days leading up to the test and the night before. If you try pulling an all-nighter instead, you run the risk of feeling spacey, burnt out, and ill-prepared during the exam. Always have a healthy breakfast the morning of an exam. A nutritious meal gives your brain the fuel it needs to concentrate while also helping you feel relaxed.
- Practice deep breathing–You can practice deep breathing the night before, the morning of, or even during an exam. One common breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 breathing technique: breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat this pattern four times. This breathing practice can help release tension.
- Practice mindfulness the morning of the exam— Mindfulness practices can help with test anxiety because they encourage you to live in the present moment rather than ruminating on your test performance. One effective mindfulness exercise is using your senses to name five sensations. That means identifying something you see, something you smell, something you feel, something you taste, and something you hear.
- Visualize success – Instead of picturing yourself failing or receiving negative feedback, envision yourself taking the exam calmly and successfully. Think of times in the past when you have performed well under similar situations. Imagining yourself succeeding provides you with a mental model to aspire to.
- Join a study group – Joining a study group is another way to make you feel more prepared for an upcoming exam. Whether you feel confident of your knowledge or worry that you don’t understand, you can always learn from others studying the same material, and the social support you receive from your peers can also give you an emotional boost.
- Move your body – It’s well known that exercise benefits both your mental sharpness and your mental health, so exercising during the days or hours leading up to an exam is a win-win! Make time during your study days to go for a walk or jog around the neighborhood, or spend an hour or so at the gym or playing a favorite sport.
- Consider getting accommodations from your school – If you have test anxiety, taking the test in a private area rather than in a classroom full of other students may be a good option. Maybe the idea of struggling in a classroom full of highly-competitive test-takers undermines your own confidence, or perhaps you have medical issues that require specific conditions, such as access to a bathroom. Some students with test anxiety may also be eligible for extended time for test-taking. Accommodations for test-taking may require documentation from a psychiatrist or doctor. Still, the possibility of getting them is always worth looking into if you wrestle with test anxiety.
- Work on study skills and strategies – Knowing some test-taking strategies ahead of time can be extremely helpful, especially when taking multiple-choice exams. There are a number of ways to learn such strategies, including by examining either digital or physical prep guides or taking test prep courses offered by your school or another organization. And always be ready to take advantage of any exam prep classes your teachers may offer.
- See a therapist – If you experience anxiety or other mental health struggles, you may find it beneficial to see a counselor. During therapy, a counselor can help you work through any irrational patterns of thinking that contribute to your test anxiety.
The Bottom Line
With the right tools, it is possible to overcome test anxiety. Make sure to study ahead of time, work on deep breathing, and don’t overdo it with caffeine. Test day is no time to experiment with espresso for the first time! With proper support, it’s possible to reduce the patterns of irrational thinking that lead to test anxiety. Visualize success, and you will succeed!
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