Imagine this: You have a big math test today and you’re about to walk into the classroom. All of a sudden, you can feel your stomach start to roll, your palms get sweaty and you feel like you can’t remember anything you’ve learned. If you’ve ever felt this way, you may have been experiencing “test anxiety”.
Test anxiety is basically performance anxiety. When we’re put in a situation where performance really counts and we care a lot, sometimes our body mistakenly thinks it’s in danger and reacts with a fight, flight or freeze response. These reactions can really help us if we need to handle physical danger but can cause more harm than good when they’re misplaced.
Testing anxiety can be a vicious cycle. When our bodies start to exhibit strong reactions we might start to worry “what if I throw up?”, “What if I pass out?” and that can cause us even more stress. If we avoid the situation we’re in by skipping the test for example, our bodies calm down and the anxiety is reinforced. Our body says “Yes, okay, my reaction worked and took away the danger, I’ll react that way again, next time”. This can cause students to stay home when they have a big test coming up or make excuses to skip class in order to avoid the cycle completely. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help reduce the anxiety in the long run, it only makes it worse.
So what should we do?
A little stress isn’t a bad thing. It can motivate us. This is called eustress. We can use this beneficial stress to our advantage. Instead of spending our time dreading or worrying about our test, we can take hold of our future by learning how to study and study early on.
We can also manage our bodies and our thinking. Watch out for the signs you’re feeling anxious and try to counteract negative thoughts and extreme body reactions with deep breathing and positive thinking. Change “I’m going to fail this test” to “I’ve studied hard and know the material so I’m going to do the best I can. It will be okay”.
Take care of yourself. Eating enough, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep before a test can make a big difference. Avoid too much caffeine as this can make our heart beat faster and start the anxiety spiral.
Last but not least, we can also ask for help. Your counselor, social worker, or school psychologist can teach you ways to manage your anxiety symptoms so they don’t get out of control.
If you want to learn more about reducing test anxiety check out Intervention Central’s Test Anxiety: Tips for Students