Test Anxiety – The Definition of Drama
If you’re stressy and depressy and exams are hella messy,
If you’re anxious and you know it, clap your hands.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’ve attended lectures, done your homework, studied for the test or exam, and now, as the calendar is speeding up towards the dreaded day, your anxiety is soaring. You’re not alone in this, and being anxious about an exam is actually a good sign – it means you want to do well rather than fail.
Test anxiety tends to manifest in two situations: when you’ve studied and when you haven’t 😉!
Roll your eyes all you like, but hear me out: If you invest a lot of time into preparing for an exam, you’ll want to do well, but you may be worried about what kind of questions you’ll get or whether you’ll freeze and blank on everything you know. On the other hand, if you’re aware that you haven’t studied hard enough and are dependent on getting the right questions (i.e. the select few you can answer), well, as you can imagine, you’ll be anxious.
When you’re early in your studies and getting ready for your very first exam (or the first 15), you’re also highly likely to worry yourself silly over what might happen. Rumours about strict and demanding professors, gossip about unfair treatment, and even testimonies about complete lunatics of academia (and trust me, there are many) – all of these can only make your test anxiety worse.
But what makes it better?
Test Anxiety Statistics, Symptoms, and Superstitions
Test anxiety affects anywhere between 10 and 40% of all students, according to a study from 2010. With the way the world has developed – with new technologies warping our lives – this study probably requires revision, with numbers likely to be much higher. *Yes, social media does cause anxiety*
There are no studies to illustrate who is more likely to suffer from test anxiety, but the truth is that some people are free from it and others are good at hiding it. Still, there are some recognisable symptoms of exam jitters, including
- increased stress (duh),
- difficulty sleeping,
- sense of helplessness and/or hopelessness,
- trouble concentrating,
- rapid heart rate in the hours nearing the exam,
- stomach pain
- nausea and vomiting,
- excessive sweating, and
- an inability to distract yourself.
The symptoms may vary and differ from one person to another. They can come and go or be a constant presence, and they can also show up alone or in any combination. The more anxious a person is, the more likely they will experience multiple symptoms in growing severity.
Reducing Test Anxiety – Rather Sooner Than Later
Test anxiety can be detrimental to your success once you start doing the said test. It can cause you to blank even more than not studying enough would have (additionally, some fears end up being self-fulfilling prophecies). More importantly, being under prolonged stress can affect your health in the long run.
Whether you’re a worrywart by nature or just peaking in exam periods, learning how to cope with test anxiety should be among your top priorities.
Long-Term Anxiety-Repelling Strategies
It’s never too early to set up defences against test anxiety. Start as soon as you can with these tips:
- Study regularly and effectively. If your anxiety stems from your insecurity about whether you’ve done a good enough job preparing, it’s time to change your tactics. The secret to studying effectively is consistency: attending lectures, revising, and really studying when it comes down to it.
- Stop procrastinating. Procrastination usually happens when you’re too overwhelmed by the task ahead, so you simply avoid beginning in the first place. Divide the task into sizeable chunks and follow a feasible plan.
- Ask for help. If you don’t understand something, you can read it as often as you like, but it won’t help. Find a tutor or sign up for office hours with your lecturer to clear up any questions you may have. Pro tip: don’t wait two days before the exam to fix this; your professors won’t be too impressed.
- Make a plan. Write down the dates of your exams (or approximate dates), and make a study plan. Be reasonable about how much you can do in one day, but do your best to stick with the plan.
Student life is about studying – with occasional parties, outings, or lazy days. The more seriously you take it from the beginning, the more likely you are to prevent massive anxiety later.
Relaxation Techniques for Test Anxiety
As your test approaches, you can use the following techniques to assuage your anxiety:
- Meditation. If you’re new to it, you can follow a guided meditation to help you reduce stress.
- Practise mindfulness. Ground yourself and focus on what you can see, hear, and feel. Mindfulness exercises will turn you away from spiralling into the abyss of apprehension.
- Do sports. Physical exercise is an excellent way to reduce any anxiety. Aim for around 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week, and watch how your body creates its own anti-stress resources.
- Enjoy long evening walks. Introduce some routine to your day and capitalise on evening walks to reduce your anxiety. No matter how much you think you need to study, you need to find time for an effective break. Aim for at least 30 minutes of fresh air in the evenings.
- Eat healthily. Good nutrition helps you keep your entire body and mind in check.
- Make time for meaningful connections. Call your family, meet up with friends, and cherish moments with your partner. It’s the people you love who give you the most strength. If you’re in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate (because it’s just another one of those student things), distract and distance yourself further. Nothing causes more stress than unrequited love.
- Nurture your hobbies and interests. You need to have an outlet – make your hobby your sanctuary.
Have a healthy and balanced routine that includes studying and relaxation time. Nobody can run on empty, as it only increases anxiety.
On the Day of the Test – Anxiety Tips
Make that the night before the test. First and foremost, get enough sleep – get to bed early enough so that you have time to relax your mind. Read a little or watch your favourite comfort movie. Don’t even think about late-night cramming.
Before you leave the house, make sure you have all the necessary tools for your exam: Student ID, pens, paper, rulers, dictionaries, calculators or formula sheets if they’re allowed. Bring a bottle of water and an energy-boosting snack if you wish. When you get there, take deep breaths and repeat one of your grounding exercises. Keep telling yourself that you’ve got this. Envision success.
Read each question carefully and thoroughly. If it makes you feel better, you can read through the entire list so that you can see that you know how to answer the questions.
Outline your answers, don’t rush, and check and double-check everything before you hand your paper in. After you’re done, treat yourself and try not to dwell too much on what you’ve written. I suggest doing something fun and exciting to get your mind off things.
PS In case you’re worried about your oral exams, head over here!
Test Anxiety – College Students Love Our Anti-Anxiety Tips
It’s no joke, 9/10 would recommend and the 10th just hasn’t tried them yet.
To recap quickly, anxiety before tests is a normal and common thing. What is not normal is letting it dictate your entire exam period or even longer time stretches, as this may cause long-term health concerns.
To reduce test anxiety, there are long-term and short-term strategies you can (and should) use:
- Before the exams are in sight: study regularly, revise, ask for help, and plan for long-lasting peace of mind.
- As your exam day arrives: Practise relaxation techniques like mindfulness and grounding exercises, spend time with people you love, and enjoy being in nature. On the day of the test, take deep breaths and keep reminding yourself you’ll succeed.
Now, shouldn’t you be studying? 😉