How to Overcome Test Anxiety

It’s finally May—time to wrap up the school year! Before you can celebrate, though, you’ve got a few final exams to get through. But if the words “final exam” make you break out in a cold sweat and cause heart palpitations, you may suffer from text anxiety. You might even avoid studying for finals because thinking about them makes your anxiety worse. But winging it isn’t the answer—conquering your fear of test-taking is.

Text anxiety is not as uncommon as you might think. Feeling nervous before a test or experiencing a little stress can sometimes be a good thing. The tension you feel before performing amps up your system to get ready to defeat a challenge, focuses your attention, and keeps you alert. However, too much stress overloads your mental and physical systems so that you can’t think clearly or concentrate.

So what should you do when this starts to happen? Are you doomed to sweaty panic and stomachaches whenever you take an exam? No! There are effective ways to combat test anxiety and do your best work. A combination of study strategies and a positive attitude can help you conquer your fears.

1. Recognize when you’re feeling anxious and why.

Be aware of how you’re doing physically, mentally, emotionally. If you’re biting your nails or your head is aching, it may be due to stress. Take a few deep breaths and think about relaxing the tight muscles. Breathing slowly and deeply helps energize your body and return to balance.

2. Don’t catastrophize.

A catastrophe is a total disaster, the worst thing that could happen. Catastrophizing is letting your imagination conjure up dire scenarios. Watch what you’re thinking, and challenge the downward spiral. When you take this kind of horror-movie imagination out to its logical conclusions, you can see how illogical it is. Sometimes it helps to just laugh.

3. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

It’s easy to let negative thoughts take over, especially about a test that’s worrying you. If you notice your thoughts going dark, instead of telling yourself, “This will be hard. I’m terrible at taking tests,” silently say, “There will be some tough questions, but I know how to handle tough questions. I really studied, and I know my stuff!” Keep it simple, keep it true, and believe in yourself!

4. Let go of mistakes.

Nobody’s perfect, and nobody’s expecting you to be. If you make a minor mistake or if you don’t instantly know the answer to a question, apply the advice from earlier: keep going. Keep your rhythm and confidence. An overall good performance can make up for a few little glitches along the way.

5. Start with what you know.

This is the opposite of avoiding procrastination, where you do the hardest thing first. On a test, knock out the easy parts up front. It’ll give you a confidence boost, and help you stay on track. It will also give you more time to work on the harder parts or that difficult essay question without fear of running out of time.

6. Focus on the directions and questions.

If you find yourself panicking because you don’t recognize a term on a test, slow down. Instead of saying, “I don’t know what it’s talking about! I can’t do this,” ask “What is the question saying? What does it say I should do?” Break the question down into manageable parts, and deal with each part.

7. Watch the clock—but not too much.

Especially in timed tests, give yourself a time limit on each question. Try it, win it, or let it go and go on to the next one. Don’t stare at the clock or your test sheet. Just get started and keep going.

8. Get Help.

If you know that you have severe problems with test anxiety that affect your performance, reach out. At the beginning of the course (not just before the test) tell your teacher about your experiences and ask if there are other options for taking the test. Most schools also have a counseling or advisement center with professionals who can help you overcome your fear.

Remember, it’s important for you to succeed. So get help, feel better, and do better! Learning to manage your anxieties is a huge achievement. It can help you not just with exams and school, but in everyday life!

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