Many students, of all ages, feel nervous, scared, or even panicky on exam day. This is a well-known phenomenon called test anxiety. At a time which matters the most, you may feel your worst. While it is normal to feel some tension before your test, feeling too nervous can interfere with your thinking processes and have a negative effect on your exam performance. To turn the situation around and perform at your best, it is necessary to learn how to manage your stress successfully.
Test anxiety is part of a broader phenomenon called performance anxiety. Whenever you are being evaluated by others, such as during an interview, presentation, or audition, you may feel this kind of trepidation. To be able to relax and overcome your fear, take the time to understand the causes, symptoms, and effects of your anxiety. Then choose the best coping mechanisms to minimize or overcome the pressure and tension you feel before and during an exam.
Rational and Irrational Fear
Start by considering if your test anxiety is being triggered by a rational or irrational fear. If you have goofed off all year and not even read most of your textbook, you may have good reason to be afraid. You could ease the situation by planning better, managing your time more effectively, and establishing clear priorities during the academic year. On the other hand, if you have been attending classes regularly, studying systematically, and reviewing regularly, you should do well on the exam. Practicing some calming techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation may help alleviate your stress.
Causes of Test Anxiety
Test anxiety can arise from a wide variety of factors. The most common of these are psychological, organizational, and behavioral.
Psychologically, some people have a poor self-image of themselves as students. Perhaps they fared poorly on exams in the past. Perhaps their minds went blank when they looked at the question paper. Perhaps they even failed previous exams or got dismally low scores. The resulting lack of confidence can cause such students to worry about their future test performance. It can also increase the psychological pressure to perform well on the test. In some countries, such as Japan, Korea, or India, the expectations of parents, relatives, and the wider society place excessive pressure on young students.
From an organizational angle, some students are too disorganized to feel confident before an exam. By not organizing their own work space, they cannot settle down to study when they do have time. Books are scattered around the room, stationery is unavailable, and chairs and desks may be cluttered with useless and distracting items. By not organizing their social calendar, they accept invitations which they should decline. They waste precious time through the school year and then end up feeling nervous when exam time rolls around.
From a behavioral perspective, some students simply develop poor academic habits. During the school year, they may opt to hang out with friends, go to parties, work overtime, sleep late, eat junk food, drink alcohol, and not keep track of academic obligations. This is a reflection of immaturity. If this describes you, remember that you are responsible for creating a good life for yourself and at some time, you have to grow up and take responsibility for your actions.
Symptoms of Test Anxiety
Students who have test anxiety may experience a variety of physiological, mental, and emotional symptoms before or during an exam. Physiologically, they may have a nervous stomach, shaky hands, tense muscles, nausea, racing heart, dry mouth, or headache. Mentally, they may feel unable to think, confused, disorganized, unable to remember key words, or have a blank mind. Emotionally, they may feel overwhelmed, helpless, depressed, cranky, angry, frustrated and disappointed in themselves.
Reducing Test Anxiety
Luckily, you can reduce and minimize test anxiety through some specific and clear steps, which could be divided into three areas: mental, physical, and emotional.
Mentally, the goal is to develop effective study habits. When you prepare adequately in advance, you will be more confident and less fearful. To lose your fear of the unknown, make sure you are so familiar with the material that you are not scared of the test. Start by preparing months in advance, so you have lots of time to make progress. Set up a clear study plan and stick to it! Keep your study materials where you can access them easily. Allow enough time to work on weaker areas. Form a study group to keep you on track and to provide practice review sessions.
Physically, you need to look after your body well so that your brain can perform at its best. Find ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle through the school year, eat healthy superfoods, make sure you get enough sleep, exercise regularly and reduce your dependence on coffee and colas.
Emotionally, you must find ways to feel stronger and more confident. View your exam from a long-term perspective. See yourself as greater than the exam and don’t let any one exam define who you are. You are a multifaceted person who has many different talents and abilities. Visualize yourself doing well on your exam and schedule enough time to relax. Even if you fared poorly on exams in the past, you can always improve. Never give up.