Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Managing Test Anxiety 101

Now that school has begun in earnest, I would like to address several specific struggles that students often complain about. The first is test anxiety.

Most students experience some degree of test anxiety, with a broad range of experiences, from the healthy level of stress that produces mild butterflies to the horrible, counterproductive anxiety that results in shaking, crippling stomach-churning, and splitting headaches.

It is crucial to know that anxiety is usually a physical manifestation of thoughts; in fact, most feelings are. Without anxious thoughts, there would be little anxiety (except the kind that comes after too much coffee).

So what thoughts produce test anxiety? Here are a few that will guarantee anxiety:

"If I don't pass this test, I will never get into a good school and I will wind up living in a cardboard box on the side of the road" (catastrophizing thoughts)

"My parents will KILL me if I don't ace this" (more catastrophizing)

"I'm stupid and I stink at this subject; there is no way I will do well. (negativity)

Notice that the catastrophizing thoughts are usually highly irrational. Sure, performing poorly on a test will have some negative consequences, but it likely will not end in tragedy.

Combating test anxiety, while sometimes difficult, is quite simple. Like any skill, it takes practice. Here are some things to try to minimize anxiety before and during tests (and other pressure situations in school):

1. Remind yourself that this test is not the most important thing in your life. Think of several things that ARE more important in life. Put the test in its proper place.

2. Tell yourself that you know the material and will do just fine (unless you haven't studied at all, in which case you deserve a good headache).

3. Play the “What if?” game. Ask yourself, “What if I get a bad grade on this test? What is the worst thing that will happen?” When you think about it, nothing THAT bad will happen. You won’t be sold, your parents won’t cut your fingers off, and you won’t ruin your life. It’s just a test. Relax.

4. Before the test, practice deep breathing for one minute. Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly. Don't breathe too deeply or you will pass out; you probably won't do well on the test if you are unconscious.

5. While you do this, count from 100-0 by 2’s or 3’s. It will get your mind off of the worry.

6. Another way to relax your body and mind is to flex your muscles, then relax them. Do several separate muscle groups for 5 seconds each.

Anyone have other (legal) ideas on how to combat test anxiety? Share them with us!

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