Sooner or later, most people struggle with test anxiety in some form. Whether you're feeling anxious over a college entrance exam, a spelling test, or a career-defining qualification exam, the symptoms are largely the same: exam stress can cause nausea, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and fidgeting. In some cases, you may even suffer negative thoughts about yourself or your future.
The good news? You can seize control over your exam stress symptoms and pull out the performance you need to earn a passing score. Try these tips the next time you're feeling overwhelmed by pressure to succeed:
Meditation is a powerful tool being used by more and more people each year. Even those who aren't familiar with mindfulness can channel inner peace before and during their exams. To harness the power of meditative breaths, inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for another four seconds, then exhale through your mouth for four more seconds. Pause again for – you guessed it – four seconds before taking your next inhale. This “square” breathing method is a great way to slow a rapid-fire heart beat when you're feeling nervous!
The pressure of your future grade, career, or performance can cause some examinees to panic during their tests. Rather than imagining how much is riding on your score, dedicate your full attention to each single question. Don't let yourself worry about what else might lie ahead on the exam, and ignore nagging concerns about whether you got the previous item right or wrong. Instead, focus solely on the question before you, weighing each option carefully before making a selection. Before you know it, you'll be done with the test altogether!
Social support is incredibly important to your test performance. One study found that students with test anxiety decreased their stress levels by venting to friends ahead of their exam. This enabled the high anxiety students to perform as well as their low anxiety peers. The next time you're feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to pass, grab lunch with a pal. The relief you'll feel after expressing your worries will be palpable!
Some of the most high-pressure tests happen at exam centers you've never visited before and in formats with which you're unfamiliar. It's understandable to feel pressured when there are so many new and potentially frightening factors with which to contend! By taking practice tests, visiting testing centers, and mapping out your travel plans for the day of the exam, you can erase much of the nervousness associated with test day.
Sometimes, test anxiety becomes too much to handle. If you feel you're experiencing an inordinate amount of anxiety ahead of your exam, consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor or therapist. More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Thankfully, there are strategies and medications to help combat the side effects of these disorders. A professional can help you understand whether or not your anxiety warrants intervention.