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Study Skills and Test Anxiety

Study Skills Self-Assessments

Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety Self-Assessment

In order to determine whether you have test anxiety, answer the following questions:

  • Do I know the material well enough when I take a test?
  • Am I so anxious during tests that I can’t concentrate?
  • Am I unable to recall material I know?
  • Do I work so fast that I make careless mistakes or misread questions?
  • Does anxiety often interfere with my performance so much that my grade does not reflect how well I really know the material?

Self-Assessment Evaluation

If you answered no to question one, you do not have test anxiety. You have justified anxiety, either because you have not studied enough or because you are trying to learn material that is either too difficult or too advanced for you. If you answered yes to number one and no to the other questions, you do not have test anxiety. If you answered yes both to number one and to any of the other questions, you have test anxiety.

What is Anxiety?

In general, anxiety is any physical or mental reaction that occurs when you perceive you are in danger. The physical symptoms of anxiety may include shaking or trembling, sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, tense muscles and diarrhea. If you experience symptoms of anxiety, you are not weak, afraid or a bad person. These symptoms occur when your body secretes adrenaline to allow you to deal with the danger. Because you aren’t running away or fighting, your body uses up excess adrenaline in these physical symptoms. Research has shown physical symptoms of anxiety do not interfere significantly with your ability to do well on a test.

Mental symptoms of anxiety may include going blank or racing thoughts. When you go blank your mind refuses to recognize or recall material during a test, but readily recognizes or recalls it before or after the test. Going blank interferes with your ability to do well on a test. Going blank is the mind’s way of handling a situation it perceives as threatening. Your mind is much less likely to do this when you maintain a sensible perspective. In general, try not to exaggerate the test’s importance or the impact its results will have. Most tests have only a miniscule effect on the course of one’s life.

Students who experience racing thoughts during tests are unlikely aware of this problem’s interference with their ability to do well. If you have racing thoughts, you may feel your brain goes a hundred miles an hour trying to recall everything you studied, apply it to the test questions, look for tricks, search for information or meanings you might have overlooked, question your answers, read as rapidly as possible, worry about your grade, worry about others who have somehow finished already and are leaving, and then work even faster so you can get done before time runs out.

Techniques for Coping with Test Anxiety

Apply these strategies one by one. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to apply all of them at once. Focus on improving and coping, not perfection.

  • Prepare. Know the material well.
  • Do not over-study. Once you know the material, do not raise your anxiety level by obsessing over it.
  • Avoid caffeine before the test. Stay hydrated with water. Research indicates that drinking water can alleviate anxiety and can also lead to 5%-10% improvement in exam scores. 
  • Slow down. Use slow diaphragmatic breathing techniques to help when your mind is racing and before the test. Try a breathing rate of about 6 breaths per minute, with about a 4 second inhale and a 6 second exhale. Breathe the same amount of air that you normally would, but just slow it down. 
  • Plan on not knowing. Avoid the expectation that you will know all the answers.
  • Answer the easiest questions first.
  • Read questions carefully so you understand what they are asking.
  • Be patient. When an answer won’t come to mind immediately, relax.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Use helpful self-talk and visualization.
  • Don’t watch the clock.
  • Work at a steady, productive pace.
  • Look ahead in the test only if it helps you manage your time.
  • Don’t let your brain start working on the next problem before you finish the one you’re working on.
  • Ignore the students beside you. How fast they work is irrelevant.
  • Ignore students who finish before you do.
  • Stay focused. Don’t let your mind wander or worry.
  • Ignore physical symptoms of anxiety. They will not interfere with your performance.