Test anxiety: Reality or fiction?

Some medical professionals attribute exam or test anxiety to a host of real-world circumstances: lack of preparation, overstimulation, anxiety, depression, worry and dread. On the other hand, others believe test anxiety is the result of somatization, “the production of recurrent and multiple medical symptoms with no discernible organic cause.” In other words, there is no concrete or discernable cause of the condition. “It’s just in your head,” as they say.

Test Anxiety: The Symptoms and The Consequences

Regardless of its origin, test anxiety is a condition that wreaks havoc on many students. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, physical symptoms range from headaches and nausea to rapid or irregular heart beat. The emotional trauma of panic and helplessness combined with poor concentration and self-doubt stymie a test-taker’s abilities to recall, analyze and evaluate, academic skills a student has previously mastered over the course of many years. These critical thinking techniques become irretrievable once the daunting exam begins. A sensation of drowning overtakes the brain and the situation rapidly descends into a mental “game over.”

The outcomes vary. Students may:

  • Fail the test
  • Experience a panic attack
  • Stop the test before they finish
  • Feel permanently discouraged and frustrated

Is There a “Cure” for Test Anxiety?

Cure? There is no magic blue pill. But there are numerous ways to effectively manage test anxiety.

  1. Meditation and Breathing

Check out Project Meditation, a website/ app that offers short, but effective 8-10 minute guided meditation exercises that focus on breathing, counting and visualization. Here’s a snippet”

Using your imagination, see yourself arriving at your college campus on the morning of an important exam. You smell clean cut grass and the sun is shining on a mildly warm morning. In your hands, you have exactly what you need for the exam, and in your mind, you are feeling strong and confident.

Additional meditation for test anxiety websites and resources include:

2. Walking and Exercising

Blow off some steam. The Mayo Clinic recommends “regular aerobic exercise, and exercising on exam day, can release tension.” 10-15 minutes before an exam should do it!

3. Eat Well, Sleep Well, Be Well

This sounds easier than it is for many of us, but students can choose to:

  • Abstain from that extra caffeine in the morning before an exam and select a healthier, less stimulating apple or granola bar.
  • Establish a morning routine- Exercise, eat breakfast, review your daily schedule or exam notes.
  • Establish an evening routine- Avoid electronics one hour before bedtime, engage in some light reading or another soothing activity to calm the nerves.

4. The 4 P’s of Productive Business- Preparation, Planning, Practice and Performance

This philosophy applies to almost any successful endeavor; managing test anxiety is no exception.

Preparation:

  • Find a qualified tutor, teacher or test prep instructor.
  • Secure funding for test prep or testing fee waivers.
  • Research and compile relevant materials, prep books, class notes, etc.

Planning:

  • Select and register for a target test-date (SAT or ACT).
  • Review your course syllabus, and map midterm and final exam dates.
  • Plan to take a standardized test more than once.
  • Ask teachers and professors about extra credit.
  • Determine how many weeks or months you should plan to study.
  • Decide if a group crash course or study group at school will work, or if you work better with a one-on-one expert.

Practice:

  • Review relevant notes, handouts and previous homework and/or classwork assignments.
  • Rework old problems.
  • Complete as many drills, quizzes and practices tests as you can.

Performance:

  • Set up or register for a timed mock-exam, maybe two.
  • Avoid rigorous mental activities the day before the exam.
  • Get those routines, mediation and exercise going.
  • Take a deep breath, or 10!

The best advice is to be as prepared as possible, and if you don’t see the results you want on an exam, take note of what went well, and what didn’t. Most importantly, keep trying and make adjustments as needed.

Stay tuned for our next publication!