Test-taking anxiety is real. You know it. I know it. We’ve all had those moments where we experience the sweaty palms, the nervous jitters, the racing heartbeat. It happens.
But should it?
Test-taking anxiety negatively effects your performance when taking a test (similar to cramming for an exam). As unfortunate as that is, it’s true. When you are nervous, you don’t do as well.
This doesn’t mean you should be super mellow, either. Students who are too relaxed also don’t really do great. So we want to avoid test-taking anxiety, but we don’t want to do it by chilling out too much. To have effective study skills, we must always be alert; naps and tests don’t got well together.
What’s the solution? Keep reading to find out.
The difference in anxiety and excitement
Think about two different situations that could create anxiety. First, think about a time you were really and truly terrified – one you haven’t blocked out of your memory. Think about the anxiety you felt. Your body went into fight or flight mode. You tensed up, you shut down your thinking, and you just reacted.
I was chased by an eighty-pound Doberman Pinscher when I was a kid. It caught me. And it bit my backside. That’s my memory. Flight kicked in, but the dog was still faster.
Now think about a time you were extremely excited, but in a positive way. Maybe this was an athletic event, or a solo at a concert, or maybe just when you were out having fun. Think about what that feels like – you can’t contain your excitement. Maybe you’re jumping up and down a little bit. Athletes, maybe your can’t stop moving around on the side line of a game.
My positive memory of excitement is my high school swimming state championship race. I was in a 22 second race for the state title. I didn’t win, but it was still an exciting race. I remember being super nervous before getting on the starting blocks, shaking out my arms and legs, just trying to stay in the right frame of mind. And when the starters horn beeped, there was no more thinking – just swimming.
We did that exercise because I wanted you to notice one thing: the physical experiences of anxiety and excitement are nearly identical.
Test-taking anxiety doesn’t need to be negative
You should feel some degree of stress when you go into a test. That just means you care. We want you to care. Caring about your grades is good.
But if you let the stress you feel lead to test-taking anxiety, you’ll lose out on the good exam prep you invested so much time into. The effective reading strategies you used will go to waste. Your memory will be less effective. Your grades will suffer.
How test-taking anxiety can be overcome
A recent study done by Dr. Beilock found some interesting information about test-taking anxiety specifically. The results of the test found that students who experienced test-taking anxiety actually tended to do worse on tests.
If you allow test-taking anxiety to get to you, you should expect to do worse on your test.
But the study also found an interesting fact: students who excelled on tests also experienced similar symptoms of stress.
The key difference between those negatively impacted by stress and those who did well under the stress wasn’t actually the experience of test-taking anxiety.
The key difference was how they interpreted the experience.
Changing the story of your test-taking anxiety
You need to change the story you hear when you start to feel anxious for a test. As your heart rate goes up, as your palms start sweating, don’t think, “I’m nervous.” Worry decreases your ability to remember information. You don’t want worries killing your grades, so don’t allow yourself to think you are worried.
Instead, as you experience the symptoms of anxiety, turn the story into a story of excitement. “I’m anxious to take this test because I am going to ace it!” “I must be pumped up for this test, and that’s always good!”
What you think about your experiences is more important than the experience itself. Change the story to change the anxiety.
So, how about you? What stories do you tell yourself when you start feeling test-taking anxiety? We want to hear your comments!