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What is Test Anxiety?

It is quite normal for students to feel a little stressed out and nervous before or during an exam, but when this nervousness becomes too much to let a student perform to the best of his or her abilities, it is termed as test anxiety. Test anxiety is a psychological condition which may not only impair learning but may also adversely affect test performance.

Test anxiety may be manifested in a variety of forms and the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some students, despite experiencing stress and anxiety, do reasonably fine as their symptoms are rather mild. However, there are others whose abilities get seriously impaired because of excessive anxiety which is often also accompanied by panic attacks before or during the exam.

Apparently, test anxiety can make it fairly difficult for a student to focus and recall information that he or she has spent hours learning about. This would, in turn, contribute to even more anxiety and stress making it much more difficult for the student to recollect and write down the answers to the test.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

The symptoms of test anxiety can be physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional:

Physical symptoms: Some of the common physical symptoms include sweating, dry mouth, rapid breathing, headache, racing heartbeat, a sense of shakiness, and even diarrhea. In more severe cases, nausea, shortness of breath, and full-blown panic attack or fainting might also be experienced.

Cognitive and behavioral symptoms: Test anxiety can also lead to behavioural and cognitive symptoms including fidgeting or forthright avoidance of testing situations, negative thinking, and difficulty concentrating on the test. Negative self-talk and racing thoughts are also some of the common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.

Emotional symptoms: Depression, feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem, frustration, and fear comprise emotional symptoms of test anxiety. Students feel helpless, nervous and frightened to face the exams and report blanking out on answers to the test.

Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is quite an unpleasant and unnerving experience which can adversely affect student’s grades as well as self-confidence. However, there are certain strategies that students can adopt to overcome test anxiety.

Being fully prepared for the test: It is very important for the student to spend adequate time for the preparation of the exam. This basically means starting early in order to have sufficient time to prepare until he or she feels comfortable with the material. Therefore, waiting until the night before should be avoided. If not sure how to effectively manage time for the preparation, the student should ask the teacher or parent for help. Being prepared will be a great confidence-booster, which will reduce test anxiety.

Keeping negative thoughts away: More than anything else, it’s the attitude and approach towards the test or exam that is going to make a difference in the performance. One should always stay positive. A student must not allow himself or herself to be demoralized by negative thoughts like, “I don’t remember anything, I studied,” “I can’t do it.” Rather one should convince one’s mind to believe that one remembers everything that has been learnt and studied. Positive thoughts will keep anxiety at bay and dramatically enhance the performance in the exam.

High school students

Getting involved in relaxation activities: Relaxation is as crucial as studies during exam preparation. Activities like deep breathing, mediation, positive self-talk and yoga can help calm the mind and boost the power of concentration and retention. Anxiety and excess energy can also be released by way of aerobic exercise which helps reduce body tension too.

Getting enough sleep: Even during exam days, getting adequate sleep and rest is as essential as preparing for the test. A good night’s sleep will help one concentrate better and boost the memory spontaneously.

Moving on from mistakes: It is okay to make mistakes. One should not remain stuck on mistakes and move on as early as possible to concentrate on what’s coming next. One mustn’t expect oneself to be perfect and so, rather than fretting over the mistakes already committed in a test, one should focus on the upcoming one, needless to say, without taking stress for that too. The next test should always be looked upon as an opportunity to make up for the mistakes committed in the previous test. Doing one’s best is all that matters, one should always remember that.

Keeping oneself full before the exam: One must not go to the exam with an empty stomach. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps reduce stress while processed foods, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried or junk food makes one feel lazy and thus, makes it equally important to choose among foods wisely.

Not paying attention to what others are doing: Anxiety may also build up if a student starts noticing others attempting their test. No one knows what the other is scribbling away, so one should stop worrying about that and focus on one’s own performance. To avoid test anxiety, a student should keep attempting his/her test instead of paying attention to what other students are doing.

Trying medication and therapy for severe symptoms: If a student feels that the symptoms are too severe for him/her to manage, he/she should contact the school counselor or a physician. If the stress and anxiety is too severe, anti-anxiety medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended by the physician to alleviate the symptoms.

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