Test Taking and Managing Anxiety

A certain level of anxiety is helpful as it inspires one to take action and study. However, too much anxiety can lead to avoidance behavior as one may procrastinate, or it may cause one too freeze during test time. This can lead to going "blank" during the test—all of a sudden your forget everything, perhaps you lose your ability to focus, your heart starts beating faster, and you become more panicked and flustered. You may find that you run out of time or are unable to complete problems you have already studied.

So, how can you cope with test anxiety?

1. Adequate preparation.
a. Waiting till the last minute creates feelings of being overwhelmed as there is too much information to be learned in too little time.
b. So, break studying down into small chunks and prepare ahead of time.
I. Study a little bit every day. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part, so commit to 15 minutes a day. You may find that once you get started, you will go over the 15 minutes.
II. Try to see the bigger picture. Often, titles and highlighted words can key you into the big picture. Make connections to previous readings or notes.
III. Create 5-7 key words that represent the material you learned and be able to verbally elaborate on each word/concept.
c. Get a tutor. They can help ease the burden of studying if you are too overwhelmed.

2. Be kind to yourself.
a. Practice self-care.
I. Practice deep breathing. We tend to breathe shallowly or even hold our hold our breath when we are feeling anxious. Sometimes we are not even aware of it. Shallow breathing limits your oxygen intake and adds further stress to your body, creating a vicious cycle. Breathing exercises can break this cycle. Set 15 minutes to practice breathing. You may be surprised how energizing or relaxing this could be. If you dismiss this suggestion, just notice and get curious about why.
A. Sit up straight and allow your feet to touch the ground. Place one hand on your diaphragm and the other on your chest. Take in a deep breathe in through your nose on a count of 5 and exhale though your mouth on a count of five. Your hand should move out as your inhale and the hand on your chest should stay relatively still. If you lose your concentration, just come back to your breath and continue for 15 minutes. Try this now or tomorrow morning! (Or before your test)
B. With your thumb cover your right nostril as you inhale through the left. With your index finger cover your left nostril and exhale through your right. Then switch sides. Practice this for at least 5 minutes. Try this now!
II. The importance of good posture cannot be overstated. While sitting, we tend to slouch, which compresses the diaphragm and other organs, resulting in shallow breathing. Slouching also strains muscles in the neck and back. It is helpful to sit in a chair with good back support to avoid fatigue that leads to slouching.
III. Get enough sleep. If you don’t there is no amount of coffee that will compensate for your lack of sleep. Also, research shows that sleep helps to solidify learning and memory.
IV. Validate and reassure yourself. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a 4 year old. For example, you may have a big test coming up. You might say something to yourself like "Off course I’m feeling nervous and overwhelmed. I have a huge test and have had several assignments and I’m feeling really tired." If you can’t talk to yourself in this way, get curious about why not . . .
*Stop, breathe, smile, and go slowly!


Yasi S.

PhD Math Tutor with over 15 years experience

700+ hours
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