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  • Diminishing Test Anxiety

    young beautiful woman studying lesson in the lecture hall, worried expressive portrait with vivid bright colors

    Test anxiety can make an already difficult time in your life seem unbearable.  You studied really hard but then your mind goes blank when the test paper is in front of you.  You start to sweat, you feel short of breath, and you keep telling yourself “I’m going to run out of time before I finish.  I just know it!”

    Overcoming, or at least diminishing text anxiety, starts long before exam day.  It starts with smart, efficient study habits, healthy eating and sleeping habits, practicing deep breathing techniques. and changing your attitude from one of inevitable failure to feeling positive that you CAN do well on tests.  Easy to say right?  It can be more difficult in practice because test anxiety, like most other forms of anxiety, stems from our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts.

    What is happening inside your body and inside your brain when you experience test anxiety?  Fear, in this case fear of failing a test, getting kicked out of school, feeling ashamed to tell your parents, etc. causes your brain to kick into survival mode.  When this happens your cortex (the rational, reasonable part of your brain) is essentially bypassed.  Your brain says, “Hey we don’t have time to think, we have to act now!”  Of course, if you’re being chased by a tiger that is a good thing!  However, when you’re preparing to take a chemistry final that is a very bad thing.  Here is an interesting video about what happens to your brain when you experience anxiety.

    Your brain also sends signals to your body, readying it for fleeing or fighting to survive.  This restricts blood flow to “non-essential” functioning and increases breathing (which can lead to hyperventilation).  This can become a sort of positive feedback loop where you feel like you can’t breathe, which heightens your anxiety, which in turns causes your brain to continue signaling the body to take in that extra oxygen further pushing you towards hyperventilation.  All of this can happen in a matter of minutes at the beginning of an exam causing test anxiety.

    The Mayo Clinic has some suggestions for combating test anxiety.  Again, the key to overcoming test anxiety is to start preparing long before test time.  You may have spent a lot of time studying but if your study habits are not efficient and effective you may still feel at a loss on test day.  Make use of your college or university’s study prep resources.  These may be in the form of a course that you can take, tutoring, or a study skills workshop.  Many students who did exceptional work throughout their academic career leading up to college never learned effective study skills because they were not needed at the time.  These same bright students come to college without the tools necessary to study effectively and they cannot understand why they aren’t doing well.  I know because I was one of those students.

    My personal experience is that reading the material before class helped me tremendously.  If I read the material ahead of time then when I was exposed to it again during lectures I was more likely to absorb it or if I did not understand I was able to recognize this and ask questions while we were still on that topic in class.  This sort of preparation helped me feel more prepared when exam day rolled around.

    Relaxation techniques such as control breathing and meditation can also be helpful but they need to be practiced ahead of time.  Remember that your brain is not functioning fully when you are already experiencing test anxiety.  Getting a good night’s sleep, in general, but particularly the night before an exam is critical.  Positive self-talk will help you combat the negative thoughts (“I’m going to fail I just know it!”) that help to trigger the test anxiety.  Sometimes though the anxiety feels overwhelming and that’s when you may want to seek the help of a counselor, either at your school or in the community.

    Do you need help dealing with test anxiety, or general anxiety?  Contact me at [email protected] or call 706-425-8900 ext 716 to set up an appointment today.