Overcoming Test Anxiety

Michael Bautista, Staff Writer

You walk into the exam room, sit yourself down at your desk with a pencil and eraser in hand, and hope that you won’t forget any of the material that you’ve crammed reviewed the night before. As you’re writing the exam, it hits you: test anxiety.

It’s more common than you might think. Test anxiety affects a multitude of students to some extent, but most forms of it are pretty minor. In fact, a certain degree of anxiety even helps to increase our alertness so that we stay more on task during this critical time. But in more extreme cases, anxiety can severely inhibit our chances of doing well. It appears that the cause of test anxiety usually stems from either a lack of preparation or over-stressing.

This has been reiterated numerous times, but seriously, study ahead of time. And that does not mean the night before. (Sure, that method works sometimes, but it’s not really reliable enough to depend on for major exams). For small assessments like a quiz, one night before might just be enough, but to be on the safe side, break it up into two nights of short study sessions instead of one laborious three-hour marathon. The same applies to bigger items like unit tests. Ideally, start preparing as soon as you know there will be an exam (wishful thinking, we know), but that doesn’t necessarily mean late-night studying every night, either. Short ten- to fifteen-minute daily reviews of each section will be much more effective for embedding that information in your long-term memory, and it will be easier for you to recall the concepts when you take your finals. If you plan and prepare well, your anxiety will go down dramatically—guaranteed. 

Over-stressing may be caused by a lack of preparation, but it might also simply be the fear of failure. You’ve studied enough, and you know (most of) your material inside and out, so what do you have to fear? Oftentimes, students put themselves down right before writing a test. No, you’re not going to fail the long-answer portion, or miss a numerical response, or blank out during the exam. You’ll be fine if you studied and worked hard. Although you can’t totally eliminate stress, you can definitely control it. Take deep breaths—it really is effective. Eat a good breakfast before you get to the exam, too; your stomach will thank you later. (Remember that time when it was dead silent in the exam room and all of a sudden your GI tract decided to make mating calls? Yeah, that wasn’t awkward at all. Just eat beforehand. It’ll save you from embarrassment.) Walk into that exam room with confidence, self-assurance, and show that test who’s boss. 

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