Most people suffer from some form of performance anxiety when it comes to test taking, but some people have it far worse than others. Here are some tips for dealing with test-taking anxiety.
- Determine your symptoms. Signs of performance anxiety include procrastinating, easy distraction, irritability, nervous habits like nail biting, hair twirling or finger tapping, trouble sleeping, or a feeling of being paralyzed. The first set in addressing your anxiety is recognizing your symptoms – what are the behaviors, thoughts, or physical sensations that advance or continue your anxiety? Maybe you regularly procrastinate on preparing for your classes. Just as they are about to start you might start thinking negative thoughts about being called on. Or in an exam maybe you are so overwhelmed by the question that you literally freeze. Identifying the warning signs is the first step to minimizing them.
- Develop coping mechanisms. After you have identified your symptoms, you need to address them directly with some sort of coping mechanism or method. For example, if procrastination is one of your symptoms, challenge yourself to prepare in advance of your presentation or exam – create alternative deadlines that are days in advance to give you enough time to practice and review. Or maybe your symptoms are nervous habits like biting your nails or twirling your hair; try wearing nail polish to avoid biting your nails or putting your hair in a ponytail to avoid twirling. Or maybe you are a perfectionist, afraid of not doing things just so; develop positive thinking in which you tell yourself it is ok to make mistakes. Don’t criticize yourself for experiencing the symptoms, instead face them head on a figure out a way to correct them.
- Prepare. Much anxiety comes from a lack of preparation. Keep in mind that both administrative and substantive information are critical to preparation. Make sure that you know when your exam will be held and how long it is, where the exam is to be held, and the format of the exam – put all these important administrative details in your calendar. The substantive information will come as your semester progresses. Be sure to stay up to date with your outlining, review on a regular basis, and ask questions as they come up instead of waiting until the end of the semester. Regular and detailed preparation can help to ease anxiety.
- Visualize. As you are preparing or studying, envision yourself actually taking the exam in a relaxed, confident state. You should study and take practice exams in test-like conditions as much as possible to get you accustomed to and comfortable with the experience.
- Cultivate Self-Compassion. When you start to feel anxious, you probably start thinking negatively about yourself – “why am I so nervous over nothing?” or “I’m going to fail anyway” or “I can’t do anything right.” This negativity will only make you feel worse and fuel your anxiety. Instead you need to practice positive thinking – be encouraging and supportive of yourself – “this is a challenge but I can do it” or “I am smart that I think I am.” If coming up with your own encouraging thought is hard try thinking about compliments other people have given you, your past accomplishments, or a positive and relaxing quotation about success.
- Reframe. The way in which we view situations alters our emotions and reactions. If you think that one exam is the be-all-end-all, make-or-break, ultimate exam, your anxiety about it will skyrocket. Instead reframe the exam as just one obstacle on the course toward your goal – it does not and will not define you.
- Get Help. If you have trouble working through anxiety on your own, seek out individuals who specialize in dealing with anxiety disorders. Everyone needs a little help sometimes.