Have you ever studied for an exam, but as soon as you sat down to write it, your mind went blank? That’s a tell-tale sign of test anxiety, although not everybody experiences it this way. Test anxiety might also make you feel overwhelmed, hyper-aware, or lethargic. If test anxiety hinders your ability to write tests or leaves you exhausted after a test, it may be worthwhile to learn about test anxiety and to try out a few strategies for overcoming it.
This video from TED-Ed explains how stress affects memory and gives some pointers for lessening test anxiety:
Before the Exam
Two important steps you can take to manage test anxiety are to be prepared and well rested before you begin. Many short study sessions over the semester are better than an intensive night of studying right before the exam.
- Carefully read your course outline and module outcomes a few days before the exam to make sure you know the content you’ll be tested on. If you have questions, contact your instructor for clarification.
- It’s easier to think clearly when you’ve had a good rest the night before. Go to bed early and rest well so you’ll be ready for the next day. If you are a “crammer” (somebody who does a big study session the night before an exam), try cramming the day before the day before the exam so that you can relax the day before.
Be familiar with the test environment. You may want to visit the testing room or ask your instructor what to expect.
- It’s often helpful to study in an environment that’s similar to the testing environment. Even studying upright at a desk instead of lying on the floor can help with this.
- If you’re hoping to bring anything into the testing room, like earplugs, a stress ball, scrap paper, etc., it’s best to ask your instructor or test centre beforehand.
During the Exam
- Do a “Brain dump.” If you’re allowed to do so, write down any formulas or memorization strategies on a scrap piece of paper so you don’t forget them.
- If you feel too anxious or your brain stops working, “ground” yourself. The most common grounding technique is “measured breathing” (4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 6 second exhale). Mindshift is a great app for learning grounding techniques and this page lists 29 more techniques you can try. We recommend trying a few techniques before an exam so that, come exam time, you already know what works.
- Make your testing situation as comfortable as possible. If distractions worsen your anxiety, you can ask your instructor or testing centre if you can sit facing a wall or use earplugs.
After the Exam
Immediately after your test, reflect on your performance. Ask yourself:
- What did I do well?
- What could I have prepared for more effectively?
- What did I learn about test taking for my next test?
- What questions do I still have about the content?
There’s a chance that you’ll be asked questions about some of the same content on a later exam, so now is a good time to review your course work and highlight what you did not know during this test.
For more information and resources on test anxiety, check out the Test Anxiety Booklet.
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