How To Reduce Test Anxiety

By Monica B. Nice

Tests are a way of life. Over the course of one's life, tests determine many future options. We take math tests, driving tests, college aptitude tests, and physical fitness tests. There is no getting around the standardized testing system. Even the opportunity to graduate high school is lined with a number of end-of-course tests to pass.

The first key to overcoming test performance anxiety is to acknowledge its existence. Most students experience some level of anxiety before and during an exam, which is elevated based on the importance of the test. However, to dismiss the presence of anxiety is to deny oneself the opportunity to take preventative measures. Denial is not a viable option. Overcoming anxiety requires honesty in noting that it exists.Many of the fears associated with taking tests deal with the unforeseen. One example of this would be the dream where we show up late to our SAT exam - sometimes in our underwear! The fear is not always rational, but exemplifies our need to prepare in advance. Many test taking anxieties can be relieved by doing what is necessary to prepare in advance.

For these learners, it is very frustrating trying to fit into an academic world where books and other "visual" learning dominates. By discovering your combination of the three learning styles, you can greatly increase your retention of information and reduce test anxiety.

One overlooked aspect of relieving test anxiety is the idea of staying healthy. The brain, like any of our muscles, needs food, liquids and rest. Being well-rested (at least 7 hours for adults), fed and hydrated (6-8 glasses of water per day) is a good preparation strategy.Maintaining an exercise program has been known to keep the mind sharp. Try to avoid fried foods, processed snacks and carbonated drinks to keep the mind ready for peak performance. Also, be sure to eat on the day of the test. The stomach may be nervous, but the body and brain need nourishment.A positive attitude goes a long way for test preparation. If one has followed the guidelines mentioned, there should be fewer reasons to worry. Another key is to arrive for the test early with materials in hand. This eliminates the worry manifested in the SAT dream. If you have studied, found the test site, arranged your spot and have time to spare, then you are prepared to succeed. At this point, a positive visualization can also assist in relieving anxiety. Athletes have been well known for visualizing success (hitting a home run, jumping over the bar) before a competition. It does not have to be as advanced as meditation, but can be a simple as closing your eyes and picturing yourself doing well on the exam. You visualize knowing all the answers, writing a well developed essay and combining thoughts to present a strong thesis.

Hopkins Symptom Checklist (SCL-90) - involves providing real-time rating during the interview. The rates recorded will be compared to those jotted down from the last screening to measure how the symptoms have changed, and whether or not the patient has shown improvements. In contrast to the HAM-A, the ratings will be provided by the patients themselves. The test takes about 20 minutes to complete. There will be 90 items - 83 of which are subdivided in 9 categories including anger, phobia, sleeping patterns, appetite disturbances, psychotic symptoms, paranoia, signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and somatisation.

While test anxiety can occur at any age or grade level, it is especially prevalent among high school students. Experts believe that young adults are at the highest risk of due to a combination of factors; the pressures of achieving high marks to achieve acceptance into college, stresses related to family and peer relationships, and the physical, hormonal changes young adults experience throughout their teen years.

Most students experience some level of nerves or worry during their educational career. Feelings of nervousness and uncertainty combined with physical symptoms like sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat are common among students, especially those facing major exams like finals or the SATs.The symptoms of are similar to panic attacks and other anxiety disorders and can include,Sweaty palms and body chills.Nausea, diarrhea, stomachache and heartburn.Headaches, particularly tension headaches and pain behind the eyes.An elevated heart rate.Feeling dizzy and disorientated.Difficulty sitting still; feeling restless and fidgety.Nervous laughter and immature, silly behavior.Feelings associated with test anxiety are:A sense of impending doom.Difficulty concentrating and remembering simple things; going 'blank'.Strong feelings of anger, fear, or helplessness.A sense of sadness, sometimes accompanied by crying.

This condition often occurs among students who are high achievers, perfectionists or those who simply worry a lot. Students today are under a great deal of pressure to perform; pressure from parents, siblings, teachers and peers. While some pressure to achieve good marks can be helpful, too much pressure can feel overwhelming, leading the student to feel the stressful physical effects and emotional discomfort associated with test anxiety.Just like an athlete who experiences a surge of anxiety before stepping onto the field for a big game, many students get a burst of energy right before they sit down to take a test, quiz or exam. This is usually a good thing, since this heightened level of alertness helps to increase self-confidence, leading to better test results.However, for some students their pre-test energy is excessive, leading to serious consequences for the students. Some students who experience test anxiety are so overwhelmed with thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms that they are completely unable to complete their tests or exams.

Symptoms of this kind of anxiety include insomnia, nausea, a racing heart and sweaty palms. Some students report feeling dizzy and weak. Obviously, it is difficult to concentrate and perform well when you have these kinds of bodily sensations.When I counsel somebody with test anxiety, there are several things which must be explored. First, it is important to determine the person is anxious about other issues in their life. Some patients who report test anxiety are quite anxious in other situations as well. Some have multiple fears and phobias. This person requires a different kind of treatment than does someone who reports anxiety that is restricted to exams.

Planning ahead can also help cut test anxiety - many schools offer study skills courses and groups to help students prepare for tests and exams, cutting down on last-minute cramming and fear that you've forgotten to study important material.Recommended Treatments.Test anxiety can be successfully treated using drug-free anxiety treatments like talk therapy and hypnotherapy. The goal of these short-term, solution-focused treatments is to help the student understand the root cause of their fears about academic tests, leading to the development of personalized coping strategies that challenge their debilitating thoughts. With effective treatment, students will learn how to manage the stress of tests and exams, turning their fears into fuel for their success.

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