How To Beat Test Anxiety

How To Beat Test Anxiety

With competition in the academic environment on the rise, the expectations that parents have of their children have also risen. Oftentimes the pressure that a student feels manifests itself as test anxiety, wherein even though a student has prepared for a subject, and does very well in the practice rounds, he totally freezes up when he gets to the actual test.

Because test anxiety is largely psychological, usually caused by the stress that parents and students themselves cause, which feeds back into itself, many of the symptoms of test anxiety can be “trained” away. This article highlights some of the steps that can be taken.

Get used to the testing conditions

The first step a student should take is to simulate the high stress environment to the best of his or her ability. Sometimes this is as simple as putting a ticking clock right in front of you so you can feel the pressure of working under time constraints. Other times having an adult come and peer over the student’s shoulder can simulate a teacher’s interest in the student’s work, which for some students can be very unnerving. Yet another way to do this is to simulate distractions that might take place in a testing environment, for example someone chewing loudly, or tapping their pencil. These techniques should be combined and repeated till the student feels comfortable in the high stress testing environment.

Sometimes the environment itself is unique (usually the case with standardized tests), where the student is either going to a brand new location or is using a medium that he is not entirely comfortable with (for example a computer-based test). In the first scenario (an unfamiliar place) the student should try to visit the test site in advance to become familiar – even if only a little – with the new place. This can have a calming effect on the student, as it will not be as disorienting as taking a test in a place that the student has never been to before. In the second scenario (an unfamiliar medium) the student should try to get as much hands-on experience as he can with the medium that the test will be conducted in. Nowadays practice tests are available for almost any kind of exam, usually in the medium that is required for the real test. The student should seek out these tools and master performing well in situations that are as close to the real thing as possible.

Be comfortable with the material that is to be tested

Perhaps the biggest cause of anxiety is when a student is unsure of his or her ability to completely comprehend the material. This can have a very damaging effect, because being unsure about the material makes you more nervous, and so the vicious cycle continues. The student must attain mastery of the subject that is to be tested beforehand. The student should ideally study incrementally, keeping up with the class, for example, rather than trying to cram information the night before. The familiarity with the subject matter should ideally reach the level where it flows freely from the student, without any racking of brains. For example if the test is on geometry the student should know (and have thoroughly practiced) all the rules so on test day he doesn’t have to look for the rules, but simply see them.

If a student fears the subject matter itself, he/she should seek help from a trusted friend or adult, who can help explain the material effectively.

Visualize success and failure

An indispensable skill that any anxious student must hone is to study the situations he can find himself in beforehand. The student must think hard about the reasons that will allow him to succeed and those that will lead to failure.

Visualizing failure and dealing with it:

He must prepare himself in advance for these situations. For example if the student fears that he will blank out when he is faced with the question “what is the definition of X”, he must come up with a plan to deal with that situation. The solution the student comes up with may be as simple as “I will put my head down, count to 10, take a deep breath and then try again”, or it might be as complicated as trying to remember the mnemonic that he devised to remember the definition. The student should identify and address all such situations that he fears will affect his performance on the test negatively.

Dealing with situations in this way has 2 advantages: the first is that because the student has already prepared himself for the worst, it will probably not happen, and second, because the student has prepared himself for the situation, even if it does arise he has a plan to deal with it.

Visualizing success and living it:

The student must, “in his mind’s eye,” see himself succeed. He must reach a state of calm before the test. He should preferably study in advance, so the day before he can relax and reach his place of focus, his Zen. He must not spend the night before cramming for the test, instead he should focus on getting a good night’s sleep so he is awake and alert during the test.

The student must visualize a positive outcome at the end of the test, such as walking out with a smile on his face, or walking into a prestigious college. He must believe that that is the future and he must let his confidence – not overconfidence – drive him to that goal.

He must walk into the testing environment feeling confident that he knows the material and is better prepared than most of the other students around him. He must feel empowered. He must remember that his success or failure can do nothing that will be irreversible, and that he will not have let anyone down, and that if this test doesn’t go as planned there will be many more opportunities for him to excel.

We’ve offered more advice on dealing with academic stress here and here.

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