Let’s be honest. No one likes taking tests, and the results aren’t always an accurate depiction of a student’s intelligence or real knowledge of a subject. But whether we like it or not, our academic performance is constantly measured by these multiple-choice answers and essay responses.
So what can we do as test-takers to reduce anxiety and improve our performance? As I prepared for the LSAT, or “Law School Admissions Test,” I spent a literal year of my life asking myself these very questions and coming up with real, applicable solutions.
Here are six practical methods that I found to conquer test anxiety:
- Identify the root cause of your anxiety.
We become anxious when we worry about performing poorly. But the key to tackling this anxiety is figuring out why you’re worried about poor performance on the test. Are you unconfident in your knowledge of the material? Are you nervous that you will run out of time to finish the exam? Does something really important hinge on this exam, like college entrance or passing a class? Once you figure out why you’re stressed about your performance, you can address that root issue.
- Familiarize yourself with the structure of the test.
Eliminate surprises on test day and get comfortable with the structure of the exam so that you know exactly what to expect. Tons of released practice exams are available for the ACT and SAT, and teachers are often willing to tell you the format for in-class tests (multiple choice or short answer, open or closed book, etc.). Just ask!
- Become as confident as possible in the material.
Students under extreme test anxiety may feel as if they “go blank” and forget everything that they have studied. In order to fight this feeling, ingrain the material in your brain as deeply as possible! This means resisting the urge to “cram” the night before and instead giving yourself several days to study and solidify the material in your mind. For memorization-based studying, use flashcards, write the material down by hand over and over, or use the tune to a song to remember the material! In subjects such as math, the best way to study is to complete as many practice problems as possible.
- Actually practice under test-like settings.
Is your exam timed? Drill the timing with a released practice test, or time yourself while completing old homework problems. You’ll be surprised how much faster you can work with practice! Are you taking the exam at school or in a testing center? For tests such as the ACT or SAT, you may be completing the exam in a completely unfamiliar environment. To help reduce stress on the day of your exam, consider visiting the testing center ahead of time so that you know what to expect! You can even take a practice test at the testing center in order to convince yourself that you can perform well in that strange and unfamiliar place!
- Soothe your anxiety with specific methods before and after the test.
These simple, calming methods cause actual chemical changes in your brain that will make it easier to stay focused and calm before and during the test:
- Take 10 deep belly breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully.
- Perform a “body scan,” too loosen any tension. (Starting at your toes, tighten your muscles and then fully relax. Follow this process all the way up to your head, and at each stage imagine tension and stress leaving your body.)
- Listen to relaxing songs with slow tempos.
- Keep your hands busy with therapy putty or a stress ball.
- Use soothing essential oils like lavender, and focus on these scents instead of your stress.
- Pray, meditate, or focus on positive thoughts. Here is a great pre-exam meditation that just takes three minutes!
- Train your brain to be positive.
Attitude is everything. This means that the first step towards scoring well on an exam is believing that you can and will score well. Look yourself in the mirror before the exam, and replace negative thoughts and doubts by telling yourself that you can do it! When you reach a difficult question on the exam, take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself that you expected some difficult test questions! Most importantly, make sure that you don’t let a difficult question or section cause you to give up; you’ll need all of your brainpower to finish the rest of the test!
Remember these six tools, and try them out before your next big exam!
For more help studying and preparing exams, visit us at www.apollotutors.org to find your tutor today! You can also use this SMU Guide to Coping with Text Anxiety for more awesome information and tools to battle school-related stress!