Learning to Manage Test Anxiety, By: Vicktoria Molokin, LCPC

Tips and Techniques to help you manage your anxiety for the upcoming exam

Test anxiety is a very common issue for many students.    There are way to work through this anxiety and learn to become a confident test taker.   If you or someone you know is struggling, call Flourish.  We can help!

Before the exam: 

First and foremost it is crucial to get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam. There is no point to do last minute cramming right before the exam. You studied all that you could up until now. Remember that you should not go to the exam with an empty stomach so remember to have a healthy meal. During a long examination remember to bring water and snacks. 

Visualize
See yourself completing the test successfully despite your anxiety. Using vivid images of you taking and passing the test. Play the entire “tape” in your mind – from the moment you wake up on the day of the exam to the moment you finish the exam.

Technique: 

Close your eyes. Think about the time you have felt really confident about something. Get yourself into a relax state and visualize yourself being the most confident you have ever felt. Bring that state on and remember what you felt like and what you looked like. Then hold on to that image for several moments. Now, allow yourself to  go back and tune into how you are feeling now and the anxiety that you are experiencing due to the test. Feel what the anxiety feels like and notice the sensations in your body. Now as you allow yourself to feel the anxiety, say to yourself that you are now moving back into that confident person you felt moments ago. Tune into the feelings of confidence and success. Allow yourself to remember the feelings, what you see, what you hear, what you look like when you are feeling the confidence and success. Take several breaths in this moment and when you are ready to open up your eyes and come back. Continue to practice this technique numerous times, particularly before the exam and notice how you begin to shift. 

Get to the test site a little early. Allow yourself to have plenty of time to be at the testing site in order to avoid additional unnecessary anxiety.  However, try to avoid talking with other students right before the exam. Due to the fact that their anxieties may increase your own at a time that you are attempting to manage and cope. Instead, take a walk around the building and provide yourself positive self talk, meditate, breathe, and/or pray. Moving your body can help you get rid you of some of the nervous energy you are experiencing. Utilize any other available coping skills to release the anxious energy from your body. 

 

Pace yourself.

If the exam is a multiple choice test, calculate how much time you have per question, and then give yourself slightly less time, on average, to complete each one.  If you notice that you are spending too long on one question – skip it and make a notation so that you can remember to come back to it later. Don’t allow yourself to waste time on hard questions when you could be getting more questions right.

Technique: 

Don’t keep staring at that one troubling question. Here’s a good test day tip for time-management: Divide the available time into three sections. For example: Spend the first 15 minutes by starting to quickly solve as many questions as you can get. The next 10 minutes, come back to the beginning of the section and answer the ones you missed. Finally the last 5 minutes are for you to spend time on the most difficult questions that you still felt stuck on. This technique helps you understand the urgency of the situation and you won’t find yourself wasting time on difficult questions.

Do not obsess about running out of time on the test. Check the time periodically, but avoid checking it too frequently, as this will only distract you and make you more anxious. It can be a better strategy to sacrifice a few points by not quite finishing the test than to rush through the last several questions and thus miss many points.

Use the Break. 

If your examination is several hours, then most likely there is a mini break between the other test sections. 

Techniques: Use the break wisely. (i.e. Stretch, drink water, eat, etc..) 

Stay calm! 

If you’re reading the question, and you have an idea of what the answer is in your head, look for that answer in the choices. If it’s there, then go with it. If it’s not, then eliminate any answer choice that is definitely wrong. If it’s a 50/50 guess, it’s okay to go with your gut unless you have a factual reason to go with the other answer. Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t spend too much time on questions that are too hard or confusing. Come back to them if and when you have time at the end

The power of positive thinking is profound. 

Each person at any moment has the ability to freely decide their attitude. Regardless of everything else that is happening or will happen, we all have the ability to choose how we react and deal with struggles, challenges, and difficulties. Even now when you are faced with quite a challenge—taking the exam. So choose to walk into that testing center with some swagger. Stand tall and choose to be positive. Decide that you will totally dominate the exam. Be confident in your abilities and trust yourself. At the beginning of the exam, you have no other recourse, it’s just you. You first must believe that you can pass your test and reach your target score. After that anything is possible.

Technique: 

During the test, banish and disregard all negative thoughts of how poorly you might be doing on the exam. Reduce your anxiety by blocking out any thoughts about the score since it is impossible to make an accurate guess.  Thinking about your score will only increase your anxiety.

You are prepared!

You have done months or hours worth of studying. You are doing the best you could do. You got this and you are prepared!! Remember that. 

Strive for a relaxed state of concentration

Avoid speaking with any fellow students who have not prepared, who express negativity, who will distract your preparation

Scrap piece of paper.  Perform a ‘brain dump’ at the start of the test, write down on a sheet of scrap paper any facts or key information that you are afraid that you might forget. This ‘brain dump’ will help you to feel less anxious. 

During the test:

  • Read the directions carefully
  • Budget your test taking time
  • Change positions to help you relax
  • If you go blank, skip the question and go on
  • If you’re taking an essay test and you go blank on the whole test, pick a question and start writing. It may trigger the answer in your mind
  • Don’t panic when students start handing in their papers. There’s no reward for finishing first
  • Don’t think about the fear instead,  pause: think about the next step and keep on task, step by step
  • Expect some anxiety. It’s a reminder that you want to do your best and can provide energy. Just keep it manageable. Use that energy towards getting the high score you want.  Remind yourself that a certain level of anxiety is actually helpful in performing your best. Remember you can always use anxiety control strategies (see below) to moderate your anxiety level if it becomes excessive.
  • Letting Go of Perfectionism. You may not get a perfect score but you will get a very high score and you should be proud of that! You have taken many practice tests so you can do this! 
  • If you begin to have negative thoughts, say STOP to yourself and remind yourself of past successes.
  • Essay questions: Underline key terms. Before writing your essay, it is a good idea to underline important terms that appear in the test question as a check on your understanding. Words such as compare, contrast, discuss, and summarize will give you clear direction on the form that your essay should take and the content that it should include. 
  • Essay questions: Outline your answer before you write it. No teacher wants to read a rambling essay that fails to answer the test question. You can improve the quality of your essay by first organizing your thoughts into a brief outline on scrap paper before you write it. Even a few short minutes of planning time can significantly improve the readability and organization of your essays. 

Anxiety Control Procedure during the test: 

  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe in slowly to the count of seven and exhale to the count of seven.
  • Continue this slow breathing until you actually feel your body begin to relax. (Most people find that it takes 2 to 4 sequences.)
  • Open your eyes and give yourself a positive, very specific self-talk (i.e., “You’re sure to do well. You studied hard. You’re doing the best you can.”) This whole procedure should take only about a minute and it’s well worth the time.

 

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