Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a psychological condition experienced during testing conditions.  It is an intense worry or fear of failure during an exam. While some degree of nervousness is normal and can actually be helpful making you feel both mentally and physically alert, test anxiety can hinder learning and cause poor test performance.  

Students can struggle with test anxiety at any age. For many students, test anxiety rises sharply in students in Grades 2 to 4 and remains high as they move through middle school and high school.  There are many reasons people suffer with test anxiety from the fear of failure and an uncertain future to previous poor exam performance. 

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

The symptoms of text anxiety can range from mild to severe.  Some students who experience mild symptoms can still perform well on an exam.  Other students can be in incapacitated by their anxiety, may experience panic attacks and perform dismally on exams. 

Physical symptoms of test anxiety include headaches, shaking, sweating, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, fainting, and nausea. Test anxiety can lead to a panic attack, which is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which individuals may feel like they are unable to breathe or having a heart attack.

Milder cases of test anxiety can cause a sense of 'butterflies' in the stomach, while more severe cases can actually cause students to become physically ill.

Cognitive and behavioural symptoms can include fidgeting, difficulty concentrating or outright avoidance of testing situations.  Many people with test anxiety report blanking out on answers to the test, even though they studied the information and were sure that they knew the answers to the questions. Negative self-talk and comparing yourself to others are also common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.

Emotional symptoms of test anxiety can include depression, low self-esteem, anger and a feeling of fear. Students often feel helpless to change their situation or belittle and berate themselves for their symptoms and poor test performance.

Tips for Managing Test Anxiety

Once you have identified whether your child is struggling with test anxiety, you can start taking steps to overcome it. 

Share these tips with your child if he or she is anxious about an upcoming exam:

1. Be prepared
Develop good study habits. Learn your material and organise what materials you will need for the test. Study at least a week or two before the exam, dedicating small amounts of time and over a few days (instead of pulling an "all-nighter"). Try to simulate exam conditions by working through a practice test.

2. Develop good test-taking skills
Read the directions carefully, answer questions you know first and then return to the more difficult ones. Read the directions thoroughly and read all answers before making a choice or starting the essay. There is nothing worse than putting time into a question and realising your essay is off track. Slowing down can help you stay focused.  Outline essays before you begin to write.

3. Stay focused
Concentrate on the test, not other students during your exams. Try not to talk to other students about the subject material before taking an exam as this can put you off.

4. Practice relaxation techniques
If you feel stressed during the exam, take deep, slow breaths and consciously relax your muscles, one at a time. Deep breathing can slow down a beating hear or racing mind.  This can invigorate your body and will allow you to better focus on the exam.

5. Be positive  
Get yourself in the right frame of mind by coming up with a morale-boosting mantra like “I can do this”.  Tell yourself the mantra right before you test begins. Remember that your self-worth should not be defined by a test grade. Creating a system of rewards for studying can help to produce effective studying habits. There is no benefit to negative thinking.

6. Stay healthy
Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise and allow for personal time. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often recommended to reduce stress.  Foods to avoid include processed foods, artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, white flour products, chips and similar snack foods, foods containing preservatives.

When the test is over, reward yourself for having tried. Don’t go over the test questions with others. There is no point in doing that since you cannot change your answers.

Learning to beat test anxiety takes time, but facing it will help you learn stress management, which can be applied in many situations besides exams.






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