Test anxiety is a common phenomenon that is experienced by students of all ages and academic levels. It can create immense stress, hinder your performance, and diminish your ability to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you have gained accurately. However, with the right strategies and mindset, they can overcome test anxiety.
In this article, we’ll explain how to identify anxiety, as well as explore effective techniques to help you conquer test anxiety and perform to the best of your abilities.
Stress vs Anxiety and How They Differ
Stress and anxiety are related experiences that can overlap, but they do differ from one another as their nature and causes are not the same.
Stress is a temporary reaction to external pressures or demands. These pressures and demands are typically triggered by specific events. It’s, therefore, a time-limited occurrence that is tied to a particular stressor. In some cases, stress can even be beneficial, as it’s able to motivate and prepare students to perform well.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a persistent and excessive worry or fear about future events, or in this case, a test. It’s more generalised and sometimes, it’s not even tied to a specific stressor, but is rather caused by a general fear about life and the world. When it’s extreme, anxiety can become chronic, which can disrupt your daily functioning.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Anxiety can manifest in a multitude of ways, and the symptoms can differ from person to person. There are a number of physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural symptoms that can indicate if you are suffering from anxiety. Some common symptoms of anxiety include the following:
- Physical: anxiety can physically manifest by causing you to experience an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, muscle tension, restlessness, trembling, sweating, upset stomach, headaches, fatigue, and distrubed sleep.
- Cognitive: the cognitive effect of anxiety can include excessive worry, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, overthinking, catastrophic thinking, negative self-talk, decision-making challenges, memory problems, and intrusive thoughts.
- Emotional: anxiety can trigger certain emotional reactions, such as irritability, restlessness, intense fear or panic, a sense of impending doom, feeling overwhelmed, mood swings, difficulty finding calmness, detachment, and a need for reassurance.
- Behavioural: your behaviour can be affected by anxiety, which will lead to the avoidance of triggering situations, procrastination, nervous habits, difficulty with concentration, seeking reassurance, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and social withdrawal.
It’s important to remember that these symptoms are perfectly normal to experience every now and then; however, if you seem to experience multiple symptoms at the same time and frequently, if not all the time, then you might have anxiety.
How Your Anxiety is Lying to You
Ultimately, your anxiety is lying to you by convincing you that something is a threat or that you are unable to accomplish something. It’s important to remember that this is not the truth and that you are capable of doing anything you set your mind to if you are dedicated and put in the necessary work.
Despite the negative messages that your anxiety is trying to convey, try to tell yourself that it’s not a reliable narrator. It distorts reality, presenting a skewed version of the truth. By challenging and questioning your anxious thoughts, you’ll begin to separate fact from fiction and reclaim control over your life and thought patterns.
Test Anxiety Strategies and Tips
Anxiety can manifest in fear of an upcoming test or exam. This can negatively affect you to the point where you are unable to study, retain information, or recall information during the exam. However, there are certain strategies and techniques that you can utilise to help you calm your nerves and ease the effects of your anxiety.
Prepare Well in Advance
Anxiety can in some cases be triggered by feeling unprepared or as though there isn't enough time to prepare for a test. It’s, therefore, important to start studying well in advance. It can also be useful to plan effectively so that you have a physical representation of your plan and you can rest easy knowing that there is enough time to prepare if you stick to your plan.
You can also break up the material that needs to be studied into smaller and more manageable sections. This’ll make the task of studying and preparing for your test seem less daunting.
Utilise Healthy and Effective Study Habits
Finding and utilising effective study techniques will make it easier to absorb and understand concepts and theories. This will reduce the fear of failure often felt when studying.
Some techniques to explore and experiment with include taking notes, creating flashcards, making mind maps, and teaching the material to others. You can also practise answering sample questions or taking mock tests to familiarise yourself with the exam format and improve your test-taking skills.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Mental and physical health can play a large role in decreasing or increasing the intensity of your anxiety. Try to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and engage in regular physical activity.
Exercise, in particular, has been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive function as it pumps you full of endorphins. It’s also advisable to avoid cramming the night before a test.
Remember to find time to relax and recharge so that you do not burn out.
Negative self-talk can significantly contribute to test anxiety. Replace self-doubt with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of past successes and acknowledge your capabilities. You can also visualise yourself performing well during the exam as this puts you into a positive mindset.
It’ll be useful to embrace a growth mindset that views challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats to your abilities.
Make Use of Relaxation Techniques
When anxiety strikes, employ relaxation techniques to regain control. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are effective ways to reduce stress and induce a state of calmness. Try to practise these techniques regularly, both during study sessions and before the actual exam. This’ll help to build resilience against test anxiety.
Adopt Test-Taking Strategies
There are certain general and subject-specific test-taking strategies that can help you perform well during exams. Sometimes knowing how to best approach an exam and certain questions can improve your grades and help you manage your time.
For example, it’s advisable to go through a test as you receive it and mark the questions from easiest to hardest. You’ll then answer the easy questions first as this’ll gain you marks and build your confidence for the challenging questions.
If test anxiety persists despite your efforts, don't hesitate to seek support from your teachers, parents, or counsellors. They can provide guidance, resources, and additional strategies to help you overcome anxiety. It could also be helpful to enlist the help of a tutor to address specific areas of difficulty.
Test anxiety is a common hurdle faced by students, but it doesn't have to define your academic journey. By implementing the strategies mentioned above, you can reduce anxiety, boost confidence, and perform better in exams. Remember, conquering test anxiety requires patience, practise, and perseverance.