One of the most common conditions of the modern day anxiety is known to affect people in a number of ways. While some experience anxiety as a motivator for success (most athletes use the anxiety of high-pressure situations to zone out and perform to the best of their abilities), others experience it as the most unpleasant, almost paralysing mental block and sometimes even physical difficulty (clouded vision, bad hearing, numb limbs, etc). In the same vein, studying and test anxiety usually go hand in hand and students of virtually all ages can be affected.
What triggers test anxiety?
Apart from learning issues in students who have ADHD, test anxiety is often linked to the family-imposed or self-imposed expectations that have to do with student’s success, the image they want to present of themselves or such external reasons like a certain number of points needed to pass a very important exam, get into university, pursue postgraduate studies, switch subjects, too many subjects to learn on time, etc. An added trigger of test anxiety is linked to gender stereotyping – for example: that girls are better in social studies (languages, painting, philosophy, etc) while boys are better at more technical subjects like maths, physics, chemistry, IT, etc. Often, anxiety can be linked to low self-esteem too. As a somewhat logical result to these internal and external pressures, a student gets scared that they won’t live up to their own or the imposed expectations, which then causes them to feel anxious or insecure.
Can test anxiety be rationalised and solved?
Unless the anxiety by you or someone close to you is experiencing isn’t a matter of deeper personal issues, studying and test anxiety can be managed through smart planning and restructuring. Here are a few things that can help:
1. Grow more confidence
One of the most important things in beating test anxiety is getting into a mindset ‘I can do this’ instead of ‘I’m so stupid’ or ‘I’ll never get this done right’. Although youngsters do tend to doubt themselves a lot (teenagers in particular, along with perfectionists), the healthiest way is to work on your confidence by adopting a studying mantra called ‘I can’. No matter how much you’ve got to do or how difficult the matter seems to be, tackle it with your positive attitude. It will take some time for this mantra to take, and you may even feel silly for a while but it will be worth it in the long run.
2. Form better studying strategies
If you are struggling to organise, ask help from students in your class. Try to stay as objective as possible when it comes to your studying speed, the amount of matter you’ve got to learn and the type of subjects you need to tackle. Prioritise and organise the material by format, length, importance and difficulty. Outline the big issues, ideas and themes you are studying and find a way to make sense of them. This studying strategy you are making doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.
3. Think about possible questions
Through brainstorming possible questions, you are actually approaching your studying in a critical way, which is helping you master your study material and prepare better for the test itself. Be flexible and think of the questions in several ways. Don’t go about them by the book, but consider possible hiccups, problem-solving options and tricky questions you’ll have to solve. Consider writing your answer beforehand for practice. If you are studying with a partner, you can cross-reference and give each other helpful insights.
4. Find a reliable studying source
Spending hours going through books, scripts and online adaptations of what you could potentially have in the test is great; unfortunately, no amount of books can replace spending time in class, listening and taking notes. If, however, you couldn’t attend most of your classes (students usually pick up part-time jobs, take exams remotely or have health issues that prevent them from being in the classroom for all the lectures), find a reliable online source with student notes to help you speed up your game. Australia’s most reliable online studying source Thinkswap is the perfect example of the type of online notes you should look for, so make sure you start your browsing as soon as possible.
5. Change the focus
One of the best ways to fight your test anxiety is to change your focus by breaking things up. If your test question throws you off, regroup. Don’t spend time worrying about that question (now); instead, go to another question or the one from the last page, and answer that. Once your confidence is boosted and you are a bit calmer, go back to the one that gave you anxiety. If you don’t know it then, that’s fine. Just leave it. But, we bet you will because breaking up the routine has proven very helpful in situations like these.
6. Accept the beauty of not knowing
No one is perfect and there isn’t a person in this world that knows everything. In life and in tests you’ll get to face situations and questions you cannot answer. Accepting that you cannot answer a question can be extremely liberating and one of the best ways to deal with your test anxiety. If you feel like you’ll be able to answer it some other time or you find the test wasn’t as fair as it should have been; talk to your teacher about it later.
7. Practise calming techniques
Calming techniques like meditation, using stress balls (or other elements intended for this purpose), learning how to breathe properly and other techniques can be super helpful in dealing with anxiety. Try them.
Sometimes just remembering that a number of test-taking anxiety is a normal part of being at school can help make it relatively easier to handle. If you need a confidence boost, ask for someone to help you out. Good luck, and remember – it’s just a test and you are bigger than it.
Isabel William is a body and mind balance consultant. She describes herself as lover of literature and philosophy, runner, and tai chi master.
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