Test Anxiety and Relaxation

Strategies for coping with test anxiety

  1. Prepare adequately.
    1. Read appropriate materials.
    2. Review systematically over a period of weeks.
  2. Determine which stressors in your life can be changed and change them.
  3. Practice anxiety reducing exercises regularly over a period of weeks.

Anxiety Reducing Exercises

Deep Breathing

What ? Yes, breathe. Most of us breathe improperly most of the time. We tend to take quick breaths and never get quite enough oxygen into our bodies.

When an insufficient amount of fresh air reaches your lungs, your blood is not properly purified or oxygenated. Poorly oxygenated blood contributes to anxiety states, depression, and fatigue, and makes each stressful situation many times harder to cope with. Proper breathing habits are essential for good mental and physical health.

Visualization-Positive Rehearsal

Find a comfortable chair. Sit down in the most relaxed position that you can. Close your eyes and do some deep breathing. Now begin to imagine what is going to happen on exam day, in a totally positive way. Imagine yourself getting up in the morning, following your morning routine, and then going off to take the exam. Imagine it in considerable detail. See yourself walking into the examination room. Hear the other students shuffle in their seats. Feel the desk, the pencil in your hand and see the exam in front of you. See yourself looking over the exam calmly and confidently. See yourself looking at the exam and discovering that the questions are perfectly clear to you! You work rapidly and accurately. When you have finished you hand in your exam and walk self-confidently out of the room, experiencing the feeling of having done well. Breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.

Now imagine it is several days later. You return to the examination room and you receive the results of your test. Breathe. You look. You see an excellent score. You congratulate yourself quietly and leave the room.

Rehearse this scenario a number of times. Visualization really works. Professional athletes regularly use this technique to improve performance.

Another aspect of rehearsal is desensitization. This means to take as much of the "scare" out of the exam as possible. If you can, visit the actual site of the test and walk around the room. Sit in the desks. Go to the front of the room. Sit at the teacher's desk if you can - anything you can do to desensitize yourself to the testing environment.

Avoiding Doom Mongers

One way to reduce test anxiety is to avoid other students who increase your anxiety - either by talking about how hard the test or by convincing you that you have not prepared properly. STAY AWAY FROM NEGATIVE PEOPLE - they only increase your anxiety.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Research shows that students who do well on tests think about the test itself while test anxious students focus on their feelings about the test. Try to stay positive and focus on the test itself and not on your feelings about the test. Concentrate on the task at hand and tell yourself that you will feel your symptoms later.

Thought Stopping

Thought Stopping can help reduce test anxiety before, during and after an exam. Thought stopping involves listening to your negative thoughts - negative self talk like - "I never pass essay exams. I can't find the answer to #3; I know I will get the rest wrong too! What am I doing in college?; I don't belong here." Be aware of what you are saying to yourself. THEN STOP SAYING IT!! It won't help you to do better; it will only interfere with your thinking.

Say to yourself, "stop" to interrupt the negative thoughts. It has been well documented that negative and frightening thoughts increase your anxiety and increase your physical symptoms of anxiety.

You don't have to convince yourself that you are doing fine; just convince yourself to stop scaring yourself to death. Say "stop" and then say something realistic like "I'm doing the best I can and am just going to keep working - taking my time. Then we will see the results."

If you are in a test situation, you can say , "stop" quietly to yourself. Sometimes it helps to add a physical cue. You might want to pinch your finger lightly when you say stop - to get your attention.

Or you could slap your leg lightly - anything to add a physical stimulus to your mental one.

Keep Practicing

Test anxiety takes time to develop and time to go away. Be patient with yourself and keep trying to figure out ways that reduce your stress level. After your test, you might want to write a list of the things that come into your mind when you are taking a test and then do a reality check . Many time these messages are totally unrealistic. Try to substitute realistic responses for these "scare messages" and write them down somewhere you can look at them often.

You may want to write some positive affirmations on index cards and tape them to the mirror in the bathroom - or somewhere you will be likely to see them everyday. You might want to write things like, "I will make an A in my history class. I know what I need to get out of school and I will work hard to get that. Even though I wasn't a good student in high school; I am a different person now and I am very motivated to do well in my classes." Write down what you want to happen and then keep saying that it will happen; you are programming yourself with positive talk and it really helps.

Learn new Techniques for Test Taking and Studying

Learn new ways to prepare yourself for tests if the old ways are not working adequately. If you study the same old way, you will probably get the same results. New techniques can save you time and can improve your performance. Check out reading, writing, and study skills resources.

Check out the Stress Management Techniques handout located at the Virginia Tech Counseling Center site in On Line Study Skill Resources in the On Line Teaching and Learning Center.