UNDERSTANDING AND OVERCOMING TEST ANXIETY
It is quite normal to feel some apprehension before a test or exam. Knowing that we will be evaluated based on what we know can make us feel nervous about how we will perform. Will we be able to answer most of the questions correctly? Will we have enough time to finish the test? Will the questions go beyond what we covered in class? The unknown is scary, and evaluations require us to face this unknown.
It is important to recognize that a healthy level of anxiety is a good thing. Feeling somewhat anxious before a test is what provides the motivation to prepare by studying, reviewing our notes, and working on practice problems. However, in some cases, the level of anxiety can reach a point where it becomes overwhelming. When this occurs, a student may develop what we commonly refer to as test anxiety.
Test anxiety can be debilitating. It can cause students to be too anxious to prepare ahead of time. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headache, feeling faint, and feeling nauseous. Some may feel so unwell that they pass out or throw-up. Test anxiety can also cause students to freeze up during an exam due to anxiety’s effects on concentration and cognitive ability. And since evaluations are common in school, students who suffer from test anxiety may experience a situation where the negative impacts become severe and chronic.
So, what can students do if they find themselves experiencing test anxiety?
- Self-care – There are many ways to engage in self-care. How we eat, how we move and how we sleep can all have a positive (or negative) impact on how well we cope with anxiety. Eating well-balanced meals helps ensure we get all the vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Movement therapy such as yoga can be very effective at calming the mind even during stressful moments. Students should also explore meditative practices, such as 5-10 min meditations or different breathing techniques. (Check out this site for some great meditations for teens: Guided Meditations (mindfulnessforteens.com)) Finally, sleep, sleep and more sleep! Sleep allows us to regenerate our minds and maintain cognitive health.
- Psychoeducation and mindfulness – In the spirit of helping students to build autonomy regarding their learning, we should encourage them to better understand how they are affected by their test anxiety and perhaps why it is occurring in their specific case. Perhaps they need to change the way they approach preparing for an exam. Perhaps they are setting unrealistic expectations for themselves regarding grades. Perhaps they are prone to anxiety in other aspects of their life, and it is now affecting their academics as well. Perhaps, they just need a boost in self-confidence. Supporting students in this self-exploration can help them find ways to deal with test anxiety.
- Ask for help! – Students should ask for help if they are dealing with text anxiety. Tell a teacher, a parent, a friend or a tutor. A tutor can be a great resource in guiding students through effective preparation for tests and exams, as well as helping students explore what kinds of meditations or breathing techniques might work best. A tutor can also take the time to discover what may be at the root cause of the anxiety for each student and help them find ways to reduce their test anxiety.
Test and exams are a common part of going to school. It is important for students to learn how to cope with the anxiety that naturally occurs before an evaluation and for parents to support their children in that learning.