Mastering Test Anxiety


The Test

You have studied for your psychology course final for hours. You are confident that you have a solid grasp of the material and can easily answer any question posed to you. Your big moment has arrived. The test papers are passed around the class. Before you even begin to read the first question, your hands begin to feel clammy. Your heart begins to race, and your stomach feels like it is full of butterflies. You attempt to ignore these sensations and to focus on your test. As you read through the test questions, you find that the test becomes progressively more difficult from the first until the last question. While you are familiar with some of the earlier questions, you are not sure about a few of the later questions. This leads you to have a heavy feeling of impending doom in your abdomen. This leaves you with less energy to focus on carefully read through the questions and select your best choice of answer.  You earn a mediocre test grade despite your superior grasp and adequate efforts.

Does this sound familiar?

The good news is that you are not alone. An estimated 20% of the population suffers from test anxiety. By using some of the techniques presented here, you can learn to overcome and master your test anxiety. This will enable you to earn grades that are fully reflective of your thorough grasp of the material.

“An estimated 20% of the population suffers from test anxiety.”

The first, and perhaps most difficult step you need to take, is to change your attitude to the physical cues which you experience. When you feel your heartbeat accelerating as your adrenaline soars, view this as a positive sign that you are ready to muster all of your energy and do your best on the test. Studies show that a moderate amount of stress can help you to do better than if you had no stress at all.

” …a moderate amount of stress can help you to do better than if you had no stress at all.”

Next, you need to take some deep breaths to calm yourself down. Count to five as you slowly inhale. Then, count to five as you slowly exhale. Visualize all of the worry and anxiety leaving your system as all of your worries float away. You accomplish a few things when you breathe slowly. Slow breathing helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the component of your system which helps you relax after a stressful event. Equally important, when you are focusing on your breathing, you are not focusing on your stressful thoughts.

Now that you are more relaxed, you are in a better position to challenge your stress generating thoughts and replace them with more balanced and useful thoughts. One of the most common errors in thinking is to catastrophize. Examples of how this can look in a testing situation would be to tell yourself that if you fail the test, you will fail the course and be forced to leave your college program. You can respond to these negative thoughts by questioning the evidence for these thoughts: just because I do not know the answer to one or a few questions, does that necessarily mean that I will fail the examination? Furthermore, even if I fail this examination, does that necessarily mean that I will fail this course? Will there be other examinations or project which I can excel on to offset the poor exam grade?

In conclusion, while test anxiety is a widespread issue which plagues many students, by following three steps, you can minimize and control your test anxiety:

  1. View anxiety as your friend, reminding you to do your best
  2. Use deep breathing
  3. Challenge your stress causing thoughts and replace them with more balanced thoughts.

By following these steps, you will be able to focus all of your attention and energy to get the best test grade possible.

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