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Test Anxiety Landing Page

"Anxiety is the space between the now and the then." 
-Richard Abell

Is All Test Anxiety Bad?

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety experienced by students both before and during an exam. However, not all test anxiety is bad. Everyone needs some amount of stimulation to feel motivated toward a challenge- whether it's playing a sport, heading off to an interview, or taking a test. Both extremes (i.e. too much or too little) can hurt performance, as shown in the bell curve below. We should try and be in our optimal zone of stimulation…or to put it another way, the "Goldilocks zone."  Not too much, not too little, just enough! It is when test anxiety is too high or too low that performance suffers. Feelings of excessive fear and negativity weaken your ability to process exam content and adequately prepare. Managing test anxiety keeps you in your Goldilocks zone. 

WHAT CAUSES IT
& WHAT CAN I DO?
BUILDING AN
EXAM ROUTINE

What causes test anxiety?

Test anxiety is caused by a lack of preperation as indicated by

  • Poor time management
  • Failure to organize class information
  • Poor study habits
It can also emerge when we have negative expectations and thoughts about our personal performance. 

Signs and Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Physical

Cognitive

Perspiration

Difficulty reading and understanding questions

Sweaty palms

Difficulty organizing thoughts

Headache

Difficulty retrieving key words and concepts

Upset stomach

Going blank on questions

Rapid heart beat

Remembering correct answers as soon as the exam is over

Tense muscles

Doing poorly on an exam even though you know the material

  

What can I do about my test anxiety?

Anxiety is created by expectations or thoughts about what is likely to happen. If you lack confidence in your ability to retain information and perform on exams, you subconsciously set a lower expectation for yourself. This negative expectation only increases test anxiety and can disable you from doing well. Avoid this detrimental thinking when preparing for an exam and instead take a constructive approach. For example, you may be stressing out over an upcoming exam due to your performance on the previous one. Rather than letting the negative expectation grow, try asking yourself “What can I do differently this time around?” Reminding yourself of your past successes, rather than focusing on a single incident, is also beneficial. You can find more examples of these turnaround phrases here.

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.


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Use the following exam checklist to prep for your test.

Two Weeks before the Test
Day before the Test
  • Visualize a positive, realistic outcome
  • Use your preferred relaxation technique(s)
  • Avoid cramming and opt for review only
  • Take a practice exam to build confidence
  • Confirm time and location of the exam
  • Shoot for at least 8 hours of sleep
Morning of the Test
  • Eat a light breakfast
  • Don't overdo the caffeine
  • Arrive to the test site early
  • Avoid anxiety--prone classmates
  • Practice your preferred relaxation technique
  • Pop a mint--they have a cool, calming effect
During the Test
  • Don't rush when reading exam questions
  • Set a pace and stick to it--if a question throws you off, mark it and return at the end
  • Eliminate obvious wrong answers in multiple choice questions
  • Outline essay questions and answer only what is asked
  • Breathe!
After the Test
  • Enjoy your post-exam reward
  • Consider what worked (and what didn't!) in your study plan and revise accordingly 
  • Note any test taking or relaxation techniques that eased your anxiety
The Takeaway

Test anxiety is managed by staying in your "Goldilocks zone." Eat and sleep well as you prepare for the exam. Choose a relaxation technique that works for you. The best way to combat test anxiety is through building positive long-term habits. Your ability to organize class materials and manage study time will greatly impact your level of confidence toward the exam- as well as your overall preparedness. Good luck! 


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Daniel Goleman describes the Stress/Performance curve in Focus, Flow, Frazzle.