Learn how to deal with test anxiety   

April 28, 2021

Have you ever blanked out during an exam? Do you have a hard time sleeping the night before a test? Are your marks on tests always lower than your marks on class assignments? If you answer yes to all these questions, you may have severe test anxiety. This means that you are not just nervous around exam time, but that your anxiety is so high it may keep you from getting good grades on tests.

To help you deal with test anxiety, try these tips:

Before the test: 

1. Practice, practice, practice.  Ask your teachers for three practice tests on three different days one week before the test. Practice tests will not only reduce your anxiety (because you’ll know your material better), but also help you get better marks. Research reviews show that practice tests can boost your grades by 10 to 20%.

2. Study in short bursts. Research has found if you study for smaller chunks of time and take short breaks, you’ll be able to learn more and remember it longer. Instead of planning one 90-minute cramming session, block 30 minutes of study followed by 5- to 10-minute breaks.

3. Mix the subjects. Learning researchers suggest you’ll remember what you learned better if you don’t focus on just one subject for hours. Say you studied geography for 30 minutes and took a 10-minute break. When you get back to your desk to study some more, chose another subject like science or math.

4. Spacing is better. Scheduling your study sessions over a longer period of time, will help you retain information longer. Moreover, your capacity to recall information you learned will go way up if you study for a test 30 minutes each day for one week than three hours on the day before the test.

5. Get your ZZZs. Research shows cramming the night before actually does more harm than good. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night in the week leading up to the test. Studies have shown that “A” students average 15 more minutes of sleep a night than “B” students, 26 more minutes that “C” students, and 36 more minutes than “D” students.

On the day of your test:

1. Feed your brain. Make sure you have had enough to eat before your test. If you skip breakfast or lunch, your ability to focus will go down and your anxiety will go up. The best way to avoid this is to have some food before your exam, even if you don’t feel like eating because your stomach is upset. Grab some toast or have a bowl of oatmeal and a banana.

2. Don't feed your anxiety. Stay away from classmates who tend to worry or feel anxious (i.e., by talking about the test, how much they studied or what they know). Instead, do something relaxing, such as listening to music, breathing slowly, or reading.

3. Pass on caffeine. Too much caffeine, whether it is in your coffee or your favourite energy drink, can make you even more anxious. It also won’t help if you have an upset stomach.

4. Lessen the worry. Take a piece of paper and write down your worries about the exam. One research study found that students with high levels of anxiety who took 10 minutes to write down their worries about the test just before taking it worried less and improved their scores by nearly one grade point.

5. Watch the time. Bring a watch if you are not allowed to use a computer. Knowing how many minutes you have to finish the test will help you manage your time better and avoid getting sidetracked by that one hard question.

6. Ask for help. If you don’t understand a question, ask the teacher for clarification. Just say: “I am not entirely sure what this question is about. Would you able to tell me what is being asked here?”

7. Don't get stuck. If you can’t answer a question, move to the next one. Very often, taking a break from a question helps you remember information that you thought you couldn’t recall.

When you start to panic and worry …

Take a deep breath. If you become overwhelmed with worries or panic, take slow, deep breaths. Research on relaxation breathing shows that taking 5 to 10 slow, deep breaths can reduce your anxiety and panic almost immediately.

Stick-to-the-facts. It is easy to start worrying that you’ll fail the exam or that everyone else will do better. Try to remind yourself that those are just thoughts. The only fact you have right now is that you are writing a test. It is too soon to think about how you will do or what you grade you may get. Stay focused on answering the questions.


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