By the time mid-semester tests start, most people are already stressed out by their academic workload. This, combined with the hassle of preparing for tests and worrying about your potential performance on the test, creates test anxiety. Evidence of test anxiety can range from relatively minor apprehension to more severe emotional and physical symptoms like depression, dry mouth, shortness of breath, headache, and so on.
Whatever form this anxiety takes, it is generally counterproductive in that it usually makes studying for the test harder than it ought to be. Regardless of how severe your stress is, the following tips have proven useful in helping to addressing test anxiety and stress.
- Be prepared
Generally, test anxiety is rooted in the fear of not having studied well enough. Hence, it logically follows that being well prepared should at the very least diminish a substantial part of the anxiety. Adequate preparation does not begin the day or week before the test, but from the first class. Many people find this excessive and unrealistic, claiming that studying just before the test is best because the pressure helps them assimilate better and faster. While people have different study styles (as will be considered later) this ‘style’ is questionable. One is hard pressed to find the effectiveness in studying all night, hopped up on coffee, when the same, if not better, results can be achieved by keeping up to date on the course material throughout the semester. Not only does prior familiarization with the course material diminish anxiety by boosting one’s confidence, it also diminishes stress, in that a shorter time is required to prepare for the test.
- Time management
The only way to be prepared well in advance of a test is through proper time management. This mainly involves determining your long- and short-term goals and creating a personal schedule aimed at achieving these goals. Passing a given course would be an important short-term goal as part of fulfilling the long-term academic goal of completing a degree, and this will be expressed in your schedule with the allocation of adequate study time. This strategy helps to be prepared well in advance of a test, and minimize anxiety.
- Discuss with your peers andcoursemates
The importance of interacting with your peers, whether it’s while preparing for a test, exam, or even writing a paper, cannot be overemphasized. It is relaxing and helps you gain a sense of camaraderie, as in the course of discussing your concerns about an upcoming test with your peers, you could find that others share these concerns. Furthermore, they could come up with suggestions to address these concerns. Studying with others also helps to enhance self-confidence. However, it is important to identify and avoid those who tend to be negative, as they are can be distracting and even compound your anxiety.
- Takeproper care of your body
When embarking on important academic work that has time limits, especially tests, personal care tends to suffer greatly. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, eating and drinking healthy and getting proper sleep and exercise go a long way in lessening test anxiety and stress. This is because these acts help the brain to properly function. As a result, healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables help to reduce stress, and alcohol, excessive coffee, or anything with high sugar content could contribute to higher stress levels.
- Build your self-esteem
Insecurity and considering yourself to be an underachiever – symptoms of low self-esteem – also contributes to anxiety. Thus, it is important to build your self-esteem and one important way to do that is to be positive. It is critical to encourage yourself and refrain from thinking negative thoughts about the possible outcomes of the test in order to prevent a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is because not only do negative thoughts increase feelings of worry and anxiety, they could also hinder efficient studying and preparation. It helps your confidence to view tests as chances to be rewarded for all the studying and preparations you have made in advance of the test.
Other ways by which self-esteem can be improved include rewarding yourself for achievements, surrounding yourself with positive people, engaging in enjoyable activities and letting go of perfectionism. One way I find particularly effective is dwelling on prior academic accomplishments. I do this a lot by looking over tests and papers I did really well on and basking in the positive comments made by my professors. I even meditate on them by rolling them over in my mind for days, and sometimes even weeks on end. I used to think this was me being vain, but it turns out it’s a legitimate feel-good exercise, so bask away in your successes!
- Find the best study style
In order to make the most of your study time, it’s important to discover the study style best suited to you. Although most graduate students will assume they’ve already discovered the study style that gets them the best results, it doesn’t hurt to check and make sure. Three major study styles are visual (those who prefer to learn using pictures, images ore reading), auditory (a preference for sound), and kinesthetic (those who learn best using their sense of touch, which could include writing and drawing). You can discover the one best suited to you by answering a few questions on websites such as whatismylearningstyle.com and educationplanner.org.
- Learn relaxation techniques
Employing relaxation techniques can also help in the reduction of stress and anxiety while preparing for a test. Relaxation can range from squeezing a stress ball, to doing breathing exercises, to seeing an episode of your favorite TV show. I’ve never heard any professional suggest the last one, but it works like a charm for me. Of course, you have to make sure you don’t get carried away and spend several hours the day before your test watching TV.
- Maintain a normalroutine
Maintaining a fairly normal routine while preparing for a test has also been found to be helpful. Throwing yourself into a frenzy of activities in preparing for the test does more harm than good, as it could result in heightened anxiety and stress. This brings us back to the very first point – adequate preparation – because the only way preparing for a test will not disrupt your regular schedule is if you are well prepared in advance.
Finally, if you experience considerable episodes of anxiety evidenced by either cognitive, emotional, or physical symptoms, or a combination of these, you may need to consult a professional. Also, the University of Manitoba makes testing accommodations through Student Accessibility Services.