Almost everyone becomes anxious before taking a test. When test anxiety negatively affects the performance of a student, this can become a significant problem. The importance placed on tests such as the SAT, ACT, GRE and other standardized tests can create significant issues for children and their parents. Serious consequences are associated with tests success, for example, graduation, promotion, class rank, and college acceptance. Once test anxiety is recognized, there are several strategies for decreasing test anxiety and performing well.
Test anxiety can be identified by physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral signs and symptoms. Physical symptoms include headaches, nausea or diarrhea, extreme body temperature changes, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, light-headedness or fainting, rapid heartbeat, and dry mouth. Emotional responses to anxiety are excessive feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, or, taken to extreme levels, depression, uncontrollable crying or laughing, and sense of helplessness. Behavioral signs that a child may be dealing with test anxiety fidgeting, pacing, substance abuse, avoidance, cursing. Cognitively test anxiety can produce racing thoughts, ‘going blank,’ difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, feelings of dread, comparing oneself to others, difficulty organizing one’s thoughts.
Before the test, there are methods to decrease some anxiety. For parents, you can talk to your child about their stress and the pressures they feel. It may be only talking with their parents may help the child to feel better, and as if they can perform well. Parents can help with test anxiety by being gently encouraging throughout the school year, and not just before a major test. Developing good study and preparation habits go a long way towards decreasing test anxiety. Cramming the night before a huge test will not produce good results. Start studying your material each day of the semester or term and review a little bit at a time, and as a test approaches ramp up your efforts. Alert your teachers or instructors that you have test anxiety and ask for any suggestions of help that they can provide you; your teachers are there to help you succeed. Following good physical health habits can also decrease test anxiety and increase performance such as avoiding caffeine and getting a good night’s sleep, eating well – make sure to eat breakfast, and exercising regularly.
When the day of the test has arrived, there are strategies to deal with the test. During the test, make sure to read the directions carefully, follow a particular strategy to completing the test, and review all of your answers before turning the test in. A standard test taking method is to answer all of the hardest questions first, and then completing easier questions – skip the questions you do not know the answers to and return to them after you have answered all of the other issues. Reread your answers, and double-check your math work, there is so no reward for turning in your test first. Try hard not to worry about other people turning in their test before you do, only focus on your test and grades.
If you start to feel overwhelmed by your anxiety remember to tell yourself to relax, take a moment and breathe deeply and slowly. To make sure you breathe deeply inhale for to the count of 4, hold that breath for your count to 7, and exhale to the count of 8; repeat this four to eight times to momentarily distract yourself and decrease your heart rate. Keep a positive attitude and acknowledge that you prepared and that you are doing your best throughout this test. Ask the teacher for clarification if you do not understand what is being asked for on the test. As you are wrapping up your test, look over the material and make sure you answered every question that you can, double check your work and make sure you put your name to the test.
Test anxiety can be overwhelming with all of the consequences for not doing well, but with preparation, practice and knowledge test anxiety can be controlled, and you can succeed at test taking.