Tests of any kind can be stressful and even overwhelming, but some individuals experience true anxiety when taking tests. Whether it’s a simple chapter test, a final exam for a course, or a college entrance exam, students are often intimidated and stressed out by the mere thought of taking a test. Test-taking anxiety goes beyond general feelings of stress about taking a test—it is a physical response and true physiological reaction to the test. Students with test-taking anxiety have more extreme feelings than general nervousness about a test. They often experience stomach discomfort, sweaty palms, an inability to concentrate, racing thoughts, and increased heartbeat, and feelings of dread and an ability to recall pertinent information. Test-taking anxiety can often bring about feelings of fear and uncertainty as well, especially since many students with it don’t perform well on tests and therefore have grades that do not appropriately reflect their academic knowledge or retention of information. If you have students who suffer from test-taking anxiety, there are some things you can do to help them. Understanding why students experience it and why they feel so much pressure to do well on tests is a good start. We’ve then compiled a list of tips to help you relieve test-taking anxiety in your students so they can perform better on tests without the stress, and they can finally have grades that reflect their capabilities.
Why Do Students Get Test-Taking Anxiety?
There are a number of reasons why students might experience test-taking anxiety. Some of them are realistic fears based on true factors, and others are unfounded fears that have no basis in reality. One of the main reasons that students experience reality-based test-taking anxiety is a simple lack of preparation. Maybe they missed some days of class, they didn’t pay attention during lectures, they didn’t complete homework assignments, or they didn’t make time to study for the exam. This can be solved by encouraging students to prepare for the test next time and doing some reviews in class or sending home a study guide. Students may have very real fears associated with failing a test, such as not passing a class, being punished by a parent, or simply feeling embarrassed when grades are returned. It’s important that students learn to control their thoughts during these times and assure themselves that they know the material and that no one will view them differently based on the outcome of the test.
For some students, the threat of alienation from their parents is the primary cause of test-taking anxiety. Maybe their parents have high expectations for them, maybe they associate their self-worth with good grades, or maybe they need good grades to get into a good school so they can leave home sooner. These students have legitimate fears and concerns, but they need to learn some positive ways to shift their thoughts and set their goals above others expectations of them. These students are often very bright, but they struggle to perform well on tests because they place so much weight on their grades and academic success.
Why Is There So Much Pressure to Perform Well on Tests?
The entire educational system in our country is driven by standardized testing and student performance. While testing in and of itself is not bad, when so much weight is placed on test performance, students can easily and quickly get ultra-focused on simply getting good grades on tests, which often distracts from their true learning. Schools can get additional funding and many perks when their students perform well on standardized tests, and schools can often get too focused on that as well. This forces students to overwhelm themselves with the need to do incredibly well on exams, which often leads to test-taking anxiety. While tests are an important gauge of learning within schools, they should not be the focus. Ultimately, someone who takes tests well can perform poorly in the workplace or in college, and someone who struggles with test-taking anxiety can be an incredibly valuable employee or a high-achieving college student. Tests do not define academic prowess, and teachers and administrators should do their best to relieve the pressure on students to perform well on standardized testing.
Tips to Relieve Test-Taking Anxiety
You can help your students on test day to relieve their test-taking anxiety, and you can give them some tools to help them at home and for tests in other classes and in the future. Here are the top tips for relieving test-taking anxiety.
Be Prepared – Studying is key. The more prepared a student is, the least likely he or she is to feel anxious about a test. Have them utilize effective study tips and test-taking strategies. Make sure students don’t just cram the night before the test—encourage them to pay attention in class every day, review notes weekly, and ask questions whenever they have them.
Sleep – Students are notoriously tired and almost never get enough sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is one of the worst things a student can do before a test. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, and this is even more important the night before an exam.
Eat Well – Teenagers are often prone to having poor eating habits, especially during study sessions. They often skip breakfast, and they rarely drink enough water. Good eating habits will help the brain function properly and will help hormones regulate appropriately so the student can minimize test-taking anxiety and ensure their body is functioning at optimal capacity.
Pay Attention to Directions – Listen to your instructor’s directions before the test, and be sure to read each page and question thoroughly. If something confuses you, re-read it, and if necessary, ask for clarification. Don’t assume you know what a question is asking before reading it.
Stay Positive – Visualize yourself taking the exam without anxiety and getting back a good grade. Try to stop your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, and do your best to believe in yourself. If you know you’ve learned the material and studied enough, stay positive and have firm belief in your ability to pass the exam with a good grade.
Don’t Worry About Classmates – If you can, sit near the front of the classroom where distractions are minimal. Don’t worry about what your classmates are doing while you’re taking your test. It doesn’t matter if they are four pages ahead of you or finish early. You need the time you need for your test, and remind yourself that you are going to do great.
Keep Things in Perspective – Remember that a test is a just a test. It does not define you and it does not make you more or less valuable or worthy. The important thing is that you’ve learned a lot, and even if you can’t regurgitate that information perfectly on an exam, that doesn’t make you any less intelligent. Remind yourself that your entire future is not based on your performance on a test, and no matter what happens during or after this exam, you are going to be successful and happy.