It's the morning of the Big Test. In an hour, you'll be taking an exam whose results will count 50 per cent of your final grade. You feel like (a) throwing up; (b) hollering for your mother; (c) murdering your sleeping roommate, who's oblivious to your anxiety; (d) all of the above.
If you feel like any of the above, you're not alone. You've got test anxiety, a fear of impending academic doom that you probably share with many students on campus. How can you keep your stomach from doing flips? How can you get calm enough to recall all those names, dates and theorems that are playing hide-and-seek in your brain? Relax. Lots of researchers have examined those questions. Here is a summary of what they've learned: 10 tips for reducing test anxiety today, tomorrow, and forever.
Six Tips for Short-term Relief
- Say No to "No-Doz"
Sure, you're going to do some last-minute cramming the night before a test. Just don't do it with the aid of quarts of coffee or tea. The reason: Caffeine adds to stress. Gulp some caffeine and, come test-time, you may be too wired to focus on the job in front of you.
- Eat light
For a couple of hours before a test, stay away from food or, if you must, just sample some. Eat and you might get drowsy. Your digestive system will be competing with your brain for oxygen-rich blood. Better than eating, take a walk to get that blood moving rapidly through your body.
- Dress for Success
Get comfortable. Wear clothes that you can relax in and forget about. And be prepared. Show up at the test site with all the pencils, pens, erasers, and calculators you think you'll need.
- Be Positive
Expect to do well. And don't worry yourself into hysterics about how central this one test is to your future plans. Since when was any one test that important?
- Avoid Distractions
Don't give a second's thought to that individual sitting next to you who's writing twice as fast as you can think. (She's probably writing an angry letter to the professor, blaming him for failing to inspire her.) Concentrate only on your own exam.
- Take a Break
Pause whenever you need to break the tension. Close your eyes and practice head rolls or other relaxing exercise.
Four Tips for Lasting Relief
- Start Early
Begin preparing for midterms and finals the first day of class, disciplining yourself to master the material every step of the way. By the time the exams come, you'll be ready and confident. And confidence is one of the major buffers of stress.
- Work on Memory Skills
Try different ways to fix facts in your mind. Make up flash cards. Develop recall techniques such as assigning letters to a series of points you want to remember or associating a word with a fact. Find out what works for you, and use it to create your own data retrieval system in your mind.
- Learn Test-Taking Skills
There are tricks to test-taking, and they can be learned. Multiple-choice and essay tests require different approaches. Practice taking tests, and you'll learn why. For personal assistance, make an appointment with Learning Services or the Counseling Center.
- Don't Grade Yourself
Resist the impulse to let your grade point average serve as a measure of your self worth.