Does just hearing the word ‘test’ make butterflies appear in your tummy and your palms sweaty?

It’s pretty normal to feel a little nervous and stressed before a test, and a touch of nervous anticipation can actually help you get motivated and keep you working at peak performance. Unfortunately for some people their level of nervousness before a test goes way beyond normal and can be very detrimental. Fortunately, it is possible to train yourself to overcome this type of anxiety. Here are 6 steps you can follow to reduce your anxiety before your next test.

1) Think positively: Have you ever heard of a self fulfilling prophecy? In 1948 Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined this expression as a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true. Or in other words, causing something to happen by believing it will come true. Your mind is a powerful thing! Negative thoughts such as “I don’t know this material” or “I am a bad test taker” will only increase your anxiety level and make you feel as though you have no control over the outcome of your test. As a result you can unknowingly self-sabotage by letting those negative thoughts and expectations cloud your thinking. Instead, try to think positively, focus on what you do know and think about past situations where you were successful. You hear it all the time, but a positive attitude can really go a long way!

2) Take a deep breath: As stated above, your mind is a powerful tool, but it is also directly affected by the rest of your physical self. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Stop studying/reviewing at least 15 minutes before you take a test and use that time to calm your body and your mind. This can mean just simply sitting alone and quietly focusing on breathing or you may find that following specific breathing or mediation exercises work better. Need a little help finding your zen zone? Check out buddify a great app for realistic and easy to follow meditation exercises.

3) If you draw a blank don’t panic: It happens all the time. You come to a question that you know you studied for, but for some reason you completely blank on the answer. Instead of just skipping that question and moving on, stop for a minute. Sit back and try to visualize the answer by closing your eyes and picturing your lectures, notes and study tools. This can be where active learning strategies are especially effective (active learning is using study approaches that allow you to engage with the material such as charts, practice questions, or live demonstrations). Think about that tutoring session and try to visualize the example your tutor put on the white board. Chances are something from that memory will bring the right answer to the surface.

4) Don’t compare yourself to others: Try to avoid looking around the room to see what your classmates are doing. If you are having doubts about how well you are doing and you see someone who appears to be moving along with no trouble, it will only add to your anxiety. Keep your focus on yourself! You have no way of really knowing how other people are doing and by focusing your attention on others you are creating a roadblock in your brain. Just because someone finishes a test quickly, it does not mean they did well. In fact, it might be an indication that they are also feeling stressed and rushed through their test so they could just get it over with.

5) Prepare well for your exams: Studying not only builds knowledge, it builds confidence. Review regularly and make sure to practice in the format that you will be tested. Many students tend to spend a great amount of time re-reading and re-writing their notes. While this can be a good start to studying, it usually does not adequately prepare you for taking a test. This is because in college you are not just being tested on how well you can regurgitate information. Most college exams require students to apply information to real life situations, differentiate between similar concepts, and use critical thinking to solve problems. This type of testing requires a deeper understanding of the information and in order to obtain that you usually have to do more than just read about the material. Creating practice tests can help you to reach that deeper level of understanding.

6) Keep things in perspective: This is just one test. Although test grades are important, in most cases one test grade alone will not be the determining factor for your overall course grade. If this test does not go as well as you hoped it would, you can always do better next time by changing your study approach and seeking extra help.

If you’d like more help reducing your test anxiety or improving your study skills contact an Academic Success Counselor and set-up a meeting. For contact information visit the ASC Website.