Sunday, March 4, 2012

Recognizing and Relieving Test Anxiety

Young Cambodians doing an exam to be admitted ...Image via WikipediaBy James F McGrath

Tests are a way of life. Over the course of one's life, tests determine many future options. We take math tests, driving tests, college aptitude tests, and physical fitness tests. There is no getting around the standardized testing system. Even the opportunity to graduate high school is lined with a number of end-of-course tests to pass.


The first key to overcoming test performance anxiety is to acknowledge its existence. Most students experience some level of anxiety before and during an exam, which is elevated based on the importance of the test. However, to dismiss the presence of anxiety is to deny oneself the opportunity to take preventative measures. Denial is not a viable option. Overcoming anxiety requires honesty in noting that it exists.

Prepare for Success

Many of the fears associated with taking tests deal with the unforeseen. One example of this would be the dream where we show up late to our SAT exam - sometimes in our underwear! The fear is not always rational, but exemplifies our need to prepare in advance. Many test taking anxieties can be relieved by doing what is necessary to prepare in advance.

The first step is easiest to figure out. Preparation begins by studying the material at hand. Practicing time management techniques, such as making a schedule and creating a to-do list help a student to plan studying time in advance. Adherence to one's schedule allows more test preparation opportunities. Creating the time is not enough. Organizing one's study materials and studying properly will also help. Consider using questions at the end of each chapter section for practice.

Having one's materials in a separate, well lit area with few distractions will also help with test preparation. If you don't have such a space, consider making one. Then gather all of your books and materials and keep them in this area. This will save time spent looking for lost materials.

Preparation Includes Staying Healthy

One overlooked aspect of relieving test anxiety is the idea of staying healthy. The brain, like any of our muscles, needs food, liquids and rest. Being well-rested (at least 7 hours for adults), fed and hydrated (6-8 glasses of water per day) is a good preparation strategy.

Maintaining an exercise program has been known to keep the mind sharp. Try to avoid fried foods, processed snacks and carbonated drinks to keep the mind ready for peak performance. Also, be sure to eat on the day of the test. The stomach may be nervous, but the body and brain need nourishment.

Be Confident and Visualize Success

A positive attitude goes a long way for test preparation. If one has followed the guidelines mentioned, there should be fewer reasons to worry. Another key is to arrive for the test early with materials in hand. This eliminates the worry manifested in the SAT dream.

If you have studied, found the test site, arranged your spot and have time to spare, then you are prepared to succeed. At this point, a positive visualization can also assist in relieving anxiety.

Athletes have been well known for visualizing success (hitting a home run, jumping over the bar) before a competition. It does not have to be as advanced as meditation, but can be a simple as closing your eyes and picturing yourself doing well on the exam. You visualize knowing all the answers, writing a well developed essay and combining thoughts to present a strong thesis.

Take Your Time

Finally, the last step to overcoming test performance anxiety is to take one's time during the exam. This includes reading all of the directions, answering the easier questions first (it's good to start out on a roll, and the easy answers might help you to remember harder questions later), and mapping out your short answer/essay questions before writing.

Remember, you cannot control all of the variables surrounding an important test. However, by addressing and maintaining the variables which you can control, test anxiety might not be eliminated, but can be fairly well managed.

Jim McGrath is a teacher, writer and president of McGrath Educational Services in Newport News, VA. This company is devoted to teaching, writing/editing and other educational, sports and business related projects.

The author is a 1986 graduate of Wagner College in Staten Island, NY and received an M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision from the University of Virginia. Currently, he is working toward a doctorate in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership at the College of William and Mary.

McGrath has been a teacher since 2002 and also has 15 years of coaching experience with high school cross-country and track.

Jim and his wife Elizabeth reside in Newport News, where he teaches business and computer courses at Centura College while she teaches high school world history, geography, and other related subjects for juvenile justice services within the Newport News school system while pursuing a masters degree in special education at Regent University.

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