A few facts about test anxiety:

  • Test anxiety is a learned behavior.
  • The association of grades and personal worth causes test anxiety.
  • Test anxiety can come from a feeling of a lack of control.
  • Being placed into course above your ability can cause test anxiety.
  • Test anxiety can be caused by timed tests and the fear of not finishing the test, even if one can do all the problems.

How to Reduce Test Anxiety

Relaxation techniques:

There are both short-term and long-term relaxation response techniques that help control emotional (somatic) and worry (cognitive) test anxiety. Once these procedures are learned, the relaxation response will take the place of an anxiety response.

The tensing and differential relaxation method:

  1. Put your feet flat on the floor.
  2. With your hands, grab underneath the chair.
  3. Push down with your feet and pull up on your chair at the same time for about five seconds.
  4. Relax for five to ten seconds.
  5. Repeat the procedure two or three times.

The palming method:

  1. Close and cover your eyes using the center of the palms of your hands.
  2. Prevent your hands from touching your eyes by resting the lower parts of your palms on your cheekbones and placing your fingers on your forehead.  Your eyeballs must not be touched, rubbed or handled in any way.
  3. Think of some real or imaginary relaxing scene. Mentally visualize this scene. Picture the scene as if you were actually there, looking through your own eyes.
  4. Visualize this relaxing scene for one to two minutes.

Deep breathing:

  1. Sit straight up in your chair in a good posture position.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose.
  3. As you inhale, first fill the lower section of your lungs and work your way up to the upper part of your lungs.
  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
  6. Wait a few seconds and repeat the cycle.

Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk (cognitive anxiety) is defined as the negative statements you tell yourself before and during tests.  Negative self-talk causes students to lose confidence and to give up on tests. Students need to change their negative self-talk to positive self-talk.

During tests, positive self-talk can build confidence and decrease your test anxiety. Using positive self-talk before a test can help reduce your test anxiety and improve your grades.

Examples of negative self-talk: 

  • "No matter what I do, I will not pass the course."
  • "I am no good at ____ (name of course), so why should I try?"
  • "I cannot remember the answers. I am going to fail this exam."
  • "I failed the last exam, and I am going to fail again."

Examples of positive self-talk:

  • "I didn’t do well last time, but I can now use my new study skills to pass this course."
  • "I went blank on the last exam, but I now know how to reduce test anxiety."
  • "I know that with hard work, I will pass _____ (name of course)."
  • "I prepared for this test and will do the best I can."
  • "I feel good about myself and my abilities. I am not going to worry. I'm going to use all my test time and check for careless errors. Even if I don't get the grade I want on this exam, it is not the end of the world." 

Thought-stopping techniques:

Some students have difficulty stopping their negative self-talk. These students cannot just tell themselves to eliminate those thoughts. These students need to use a thought-stopping technique to overcome their worry and become relaxed.

To stop your thoughts in the lecture, lab or during an exam, silently shout to yourself "Stop" or "Stop thinking about that." After your silent shout, either relax yourself or repeat one of your positive self-talk statements. You may have to shout to yourself several times during an exam or while doing homework to control negative self-talk. After every shout, use a different relaxation technique/scene or positive self-talk statement.

Thought stopping works because it interrupts the worry response before it can cause high anxiety or negative emotions. During the interruption, you can replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk statements or relaxation. Students with high worry anxiety should practice this technique three days to one week before taking an exam. Contact Dr. Lamberton’s office if you have additional questions about how to reduce test anxiety/negative self-talk statements.

Reference: Paul D. Nolting, Ph.D., Math Study Skills Workbook, Your Guide to Reducing Test Anxiety and Improving Study Strategies, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Is it possible to overcome test anxiety?

Here are some things that may help reduce your test anxiety provided by Mayo Clinic source: (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/test-anxiety/AN02021):

Establish a consistent pre-test routine.

Learn what works for you, and follow the same steps each time you're getting ready to take a test. This will ease your stress level and help assure you that you're well prepared.

    Learn relaxation techniques.

    There are a number of things you can do right before and during the test to help you stay calm and confident, such as deep breathing, relaxing your muscles one at a time, or closing your eyes and imagining a positive outcome.

    Don't forget to eat and drink.

    Just like muscles in your body, your brain needs fuel to function. Eat the day of the test so that you're not running on empty when test time arrives. Also, drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda pop, which can cause your blood sugar to peak and then drop, or caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks or coffee, which can increase anxiety.

    Get some exercise.

    Regular aerobic exercise and exercising on exam day can release tension.

    Get plenty of sleep.

    Sleep is directly related to academic performance.

    Talk to your teachers.

    Make sure you understand what's going to be on each test and know exactly how to prepare. In addition, let your teachers know that you feel anxious when you take tests. He or she may have suggestions to help you succeed.

    Don't ignore a learning disability.

    Test anxiety may improve by addressing an underlying condition that interferes with the ability to learn, focus or concentrate, for example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. In many cases, a student diagnosed with a learning disability is entitled to help with test taking, such as extra time to complete a test or having questions read aloud.

    See a professional counselor.

    A professional counselor can help you work through feelings, thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen anxiety. Contact Dr. Lamberton’s office for a referral.