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Dealing with test anxiety

No student has ever said (or so we think) they feel completely fine and stress-free going into an exam. It is quite common for students at some point in their academic journey to feel nervous or anxious about an upcoming exam. Being stressed is entirely normal, however when the fear, worry and anxiety become so intense academic performance starts to decrease, engaging in test anxiety management strategies can be very helpful.

First, let’s discuss some of the main symptoms of test anxiety. Test anxiety symptoms can be separated into three categories: physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms include panic and anxiety attacks, mild shaking, sweaty palm and underarms, increased heart rate and nausea. Cognitive symptoms include increased self-comparison to others, difficulties remembering memorized information, negative and deteriorating self-talk as well as brain fog. Emotional symptoms include low self-esteem and self-worth, increased anger and frustration as well as increased irritability and helplessness.

The causes of test anxiety remain unknown. However, research suggests the following four factors to be possible causes:

(1) The pressure of timed test

Although schools are starting to eliminate timed examinations from their curriculums, some are here to stay. For example, high school entrance exams, MCATs and SSATs are all timed examinations that can create/ trigger a great deal of anxiety for students.

(2) The intimidation of taking tests in a crowded environment

Some students can develop test anxiety based on the environment in which they take the test. Large and busy testing environments can trigger feeling of anxiety and stress in students especially if they are used to smaller more intimate settings.

(3) Poor study skills or a lack of preparedness

The most obvious factor related to test anxiety is a student’s feelings of uncertainty and unpreparedness regarding the course material. Students who feel comfortable and at ease with the course material feel more confident walking into the exam.

(4) A history of stress related test taking

Since test anxiety is a learned behaviour, an established pattern of stress and anxiety around tests can only create more test anxiety for the student in the future.

Although test anxiety is serious but common condition, it can be managed in a variety of ways. For example, regular exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety. Engaging in any form physical activity like a walk, a short yoga session, or even a 10-minute run can significantly improve your mental state by distracting you and forcing you to take a break. Making sure you stick to a steady sleep schedule is also a good way to reduce stress in your life and eating a healthy and balanced meals helps your body deal and manage stress. Good and proper nutrition gives your body and brain the fuel it needs to overcome physical and mental stressors. Prepping adequately for a test is a key strategy in managing test anxiety. Students who take the time to create an efficient study schedule are better able to manage their time and excel academically. Studying for a test the night before is never a good idea and will almost always lead to anxiety and stress that can have a negative impact on your performance.

Remember, if you feel like you suffer from test anxiety you are not alone! Sitting down to take a test is a very nerve wracking, overwhelming and stressful experience. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, however there are strategies you can implement to help manage the stress and anxiety. We are confident that if you try some of the strategies mentioned above and seek additional help when needed, you will feel more confident and at-ease walking into your next test.

GritGoals Education does not provide any medical advice. We are fully aware how difficult and overwhelming academic challenges can be which is why we encourage you to speak to your healthcare practitioner to learn about what me right for you.

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