Alright, the secret is out – Yes, I too am one of those students who suffers from intense test anxiety. At times, a simple quiz or midterm exam would feel like the Tour de France – except, I was riding a tricycle among world-class cyclists, pedaling my tail off just to move forward. Luckily, there were several resources at my campus to help students who struggled with test anxiety. So today, I’m going to share with you all the top techniques I used to overcome my fear of the “almighty” exam.
1. Visualization Exercises
These are CLUTCH! One of my best friends recommended a book called “Mind Gym” written by a sports psychologist. In the book, the primary lesson was “create a mental sanctuary”. You can do this by imagining all of your best moments in life, accolades obtained, points where you’ve performed at your absolute best — then plastering them on the walls in your mind like posters. The key to this technique was in the details. The more in-depth you go with your visualization, the more likely it is that you relive/re-experience and feel the way you felt when you performed at your optimal capacity. This is the mindset you want to have when approaching exams – optimized, empowered, and thoroughly charged up.
2. Prepare, then Over-prepare
My friend Kwame used to say this short phrase almost like a personal mantra (The 6 P’s): “Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance.” At first I thought it was very catchy – but turns out that it is ABSOLUTELY true. For students with test anxiety, it’s critical to anticipate some of the nerves, and ultimately, the root of those nerves (fear of getting questions incorrect). So to circumvent that, take your preparation to the next level. Now, there’s a fine line between highly prepared and OCD; my recommendation is to strive for the former and not the latter. If you’ve gone through all your notes 3 times, go ahead and add on a fourth. Talk over those key concepts with your classmates, but then go find someone who is less knowledgeable and teach them those same concepts. All of these tactics help to build confidence in the material you have learned; confidence leads to reassurance, which will bring those anxiety levels down during the exam.
3. Taking More Tests
I know this sounds almost counterintuitive. But the key here is practice! I found that, the more I sat down to take exams — the more I understood my own personal rhythm. I paid close attention to things like, what made me uncomfortable before or during an exam, whether I preferred to write equations/concepts on the handheld whiteboard or not, and even how useful headphones/earplugs were. As I started sitting for more exams, and as the exam lengths became longer, I gathered so many useful clues that aided in maximizing my comfort. For example — I take TUMS before my exams, to avoid the annoying nervous “bubbleguts” that I get throughout a test. I also RELIGIOUSLY use earplugs (I’m talking the soft cushiony kind you can jam deep in your ears). Another random idiosyncrasy, I MUST listen to music – right up until the moment where I enter the exam room (most of the time it is a pre-coordinated, intentional playlist to help me carry momentum into the exam). Bottom line — by taking more exams and learning what makes creates comfortable environment, you chip away at test anxiety.
4. Speaking to Someone
This may be one of the more difficult points to digest. It is incredibly helpful to talk with someone about your struggles with test anxiety. Choosing who to speak to is ultimately a function of your comfort level. Try sharing it with a trusted friend, then maybe a professor, or even someone else who has battled test anxiety. The key is to start the conversation; it’s a step in the right direction. Also, most institutions have a Wellness Counselor, or some sort of administrator who helps with test-anxiety. Often, in these conversations, counselors can isolate the cause or causes of anxiety, identify notable triggers, THEN propose methods to overcome those sources of anxiety. The best part of it all is knowing that you aren’t alone, and that there are folks willing to help you climb over this hurdle.
5. Mind, Body, and Spirit Wellness
Sometimes the key to relieving pre-test anxiety is to diffuse general life stress. There could be a myriad of external factors affecting your headspace, often without you being cognizant of it. In situations like these, it is important to maintain a healthy state of being. Exercise. SLEEP! Get a massage. Spend times with loved ones. Go to your preferred place of worship and meditate. All of these options do wonders in restoring the balance you need to be at your best.
So there you have it — the top tips that helped me wade through the murky waters of test taking. It wasn’t easy at first, but slowly and surely, I got GOOD at taking exams. The feeling of jitters never quite goes away entirely, but I have such a better approach…I think clearer, and I feel more confidant entering and exiting my exams than ever before.
If you struggle with test anxiety and would like to get more information, feel free to hit us up! Our mentors are on standby and willing to help you navigate it!!