The moment you enter the classroom you feel that dread rising within you. Today is the big test—the finals!
You glance around to gauge how everyone else is feeling. Some chat with excitement, some smiling faces, and a few in quiet contemplation.
You wonder, “are they feeling the same as I do?”
With knees wobbling, you cross the classroom and slip into your seat. As you sit down with unease, you can feel your heartbeat pounding harder and harder in your chest.
While everyone settles in, you pull out your pen and look to the front of the room—to your teacher and the bundle of papers he’s holding in his hands.
You lower your eyes, trying hard to distract yourself from the panic that is steadily rising inside of you. Staring at your desk, you focused on scribbles a former student had left behind in the worn-out wooden surface.
Right in the field of your vision, the teacher drops the test papers in front of you.
You feel yourself blacking out for a moment as if he had hit you with a slab made of lead. And every formula, every review example, every strategy you had studied and memorized suddenly vanishes from your mind.
A Little Bit of Anxiety Can Be Motivating—Too Much Can Be Crippling
Maybe that scenario at the outset is familiar to you—at least somewhat.
Though, perhaps your anxiety attack doesn’t happen right before the test in the classroom. Maybe it comes days before a major test and lingers, taking you on a roller coaster ride, until it’s all over.
Yes, test anxiety can come in many forms.
A little bit of it can motivate you to do your best. But too much anxiety can cause extreme stress and paralyze you completely with devastating effects.
In general, test anxiety can affect you in four ways:
- Mentally – You may have trouble concentrating, as you worry excessively and put a lot of pressure on yourself, thinking that you are not good enough and that you will not be able to succeed.
- Emotionally – You may become overwhelmed by fear, irritability, or helplessness, feeling intense distress and discomfort when confronted with test situations.
- Behaviorally – You may try almost anything to avoid a test or the experience of the unsettling restlessness as you get ready for a test.
- Physically – You may be so acutely aware of certain bodily sensations—such as headaches, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, and nausea—that focusing on them makes them even worse.
So, what can you do to deal with your test anxiety and not let it get in the way during your finals?
Take Simple Steps to Reduce Your Test Anxiety
Although you may think that nobody understands you, that nobody is suffering the way you do during finals, test anxiety is not uncommon. It affects people of all different age groups, even those that have finished school and are already in the working world.
To address and reduce your test anxiety, the following steps are critical:
Step #1: Be willing to seek out and learn calming techniques
Know your “enemy” and know how to confront your anxiety. First and foremost, you need to educate yourself about test anxiety and what techniques are helpful to calm you down.
Do research and apply what you’ve learned. Don’t be the student that in their senior year wishes they had known more about how to handle their anxiety, realizing that their high school years could have turned out much more productive.
Step #2: Recognize that a test result does not define you as a person
As noted before, feeling anxiety during school evaluations is not unusual. While tests are important, they are just tests!
Resist linking a poor test result with the value you have as a person. It does not define you as a person nor discredit your character. Your worth does not hinge on your test score.
Step #3: Accept feeling discomfort and stay calm
If you begin feeling short of breath during an exam, remind yourself that your body won’t forget how to breathe. Stay calm and take deep, regular breaths.
If you’re having trouble focusing on that technique by yourself, make use of your smartphone. There are many apps that can help guide you through breathing exercises and calm you down. Look them up!
Step #4: Listen to relaxing music or nature sounds
Another way to use outside input to reduce your anxiety is listening to relaxing music or calming nature sounds. Of course, this technique isn’t suitable for the classroom. But if you have anxiety attacks before exams, listening to the right music at home can help a lot to relax you.
Just be sure that it’s soothing music with a slow beat. That’s because your body and mind synchronize with the beat—a slow beat slows your heart rate, but a fast one has the opposite effect.
Step #5: Tell someone about your anxiety and get help
Making your school administration and teachers aware of your problem may seem “weak,” but if you suffer from such extreme test anxiety that it affects your grades, ‘in school’ help is crucial.
You may be surprised at how supportive and accommodating your school faculty can be. Accept their help and suggestions. After all, they want to see you succeed. Think about this, just telling them about your problem can take a huge weight off your shoulders.
In the end, if your test anxiety still feels unmanageable after you’ve applied these five steps—or it gets increasingly worse, or it disrupts other activities in your life—seek a mental health professional. I would be happy to be of assistance.