Exams are well known for being stressful. They put you in an unnatural environment and under a great deal of pressure. Understandably then, many people get nervous before exams, but suffering test anxiety is a different story.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America say test anxiety is a condition all its own, even though it doesn’t yet have its own section is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Having test anxiety means you’ll feel intense stress before, during and/or after exams which often makes it impossible for you to perform at your best.
You may feel physically sick, your heart will race and you may even experience panic attacks. All of these sensations coupled with negative self-talk (“I’m going to fail” etc.) stop your brain from being able to retrieve memories. It also makes it harder for you to think clearly and understand the question.
Previous research has found that students who are overly anxious about tests typically score 12 percentile points lower than those who are averagely anxious. Parental pressure surrounding exams also increases the risk of children feeling physically affected by anxiety when taking tests.
How to ease test anxiety
Study right – Developing good study habits (i.e. not cramming) can really help put your mind at ease. Understanding the format the test will be in and how the marking will work is another way to mentally prepare.
Practise – Doing some practise tests under simulated exam conditions can help you get ready for the real thing.
Try relaxation techniques – Physically relaxing the body before an exam can help you to mentally relax too. Learn some breathing techniques to help you stay calm.
Write your worries down – A study from the University of Chicago found that students who wrote about their anxieties before a test performed better than those who didn’t; so try writing your concerns down on paper before going into an exam.
Think positive – Avoid negative self-talk and be mentally positive instead. Tell yourself you are capable and remember it isn’t the end of the world if you fail.