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How To Manage Test Anxiety

Updated: May 10, 2023

Photo courtesy of University of The People

Hey Lovelies,

This semester has been testing me from midterms to presentations to case studies. I need some TLC!

Somehow I managed to still get all A’s in my second semester of grad school and I thought I’d share some strategies to manage test anxiety for my fellow students.

One of the worst cases of test anxiety I ever had was in middle school. I remember we had to take an assessment to determine are reading level.

I believe it was either the FCAT or FSA but anyways I was so stressed out my palms were sweating. I kept staring at the clock and changing my answers during the test and as you can imagine I ended up not passing the test.

I had to take intensive reading in 7th and 8th grade and for those of you who are familiar with that class it is designed with testing in mind.

Literally the whole course is designed for test prep and no fun whatsoever. Everything that I wasn’t receiving in a normal classroom environment because apparently you’re supposed to already know this somehow if you have private tutors and access to study advanced skills.

According to UNCF, in 2015, the average reading score for white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade exam was “26 points higher than black students. Similar gaps are apparent in math. The 12th grade assessment also show alarming disparities as well, with only seven percent of black students performing at or above proficient on the math exam in 2015, compared to 32 percent white students.”

There is a major disparity for African American students to gain access to college-ready resources.

Even when Black students do have access to honors or advanced placement courses, they are vastly underrepresented in these courses.

Black and Latino students represent “38 percent of students in schools that offer AP courses, but only 29 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course. Black and Latino students also have less access to gifted and talented education programs than white students.”

I can tell you from personal experience I had to climb my way up the latter from intensive reading to standard English to honors courses until I started taking AP Lang.

I was discouraged and disheartened to find no Black teachers in any of the AP classes offered at my high school. Even less Black students in my actual classes.

My guidance counselors also tried to persuade me to quit but I kept pushing because I knew this was bigger than me and more Black students need a seat at the table.

What Is Test Anxiety?

According to the University of North Carolina, Test Anxiety is defined as a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to perform well on tests.

If you’ve ever studied for a test and did all the assignments leading up to it but when the day comes and the paper is in front of you suddenly you blank that’s a form of test anxiety.

Test anxiety can manifest in different ways.

Physical symptoms: Headache, nausea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and feeling faint. Test anxiety can also cause panic attacks, which are the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which you may feel like you are unable to breathe or like you are having a heart attack.

Emotional symptoms: Feelings of stress, fear, helplessness, and disappointment, negative thoughts (rumination about past poor performances, consequences of failure, feeling inadequate, helpless), mind going blank, and racing thoughts.

Behavioral/cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively, comparing yourself to others, and procrastinating.

What Triggers Test Anxiety?

Test Anxiety may be triggered by poor study habits which can look like getting distracted during study sessions by mobile device, television or others.

An experience with poor test performance in the past may also trigger test anxiety. Fear of failure can lead to a poor sense of self-worth and have a major impact on test scores. An underlying anxiety problem can also contribute to test anxiety.

How Can I Manage Test Anxiety?

Photo court of Weston Colton/Getty Images/Rubberball.

Adjust Study Habits

It may seem like a no-brainer but our study environment can significantly help us when it comes to improving our testing performance. Some people like to study on the bus on the way to school. I used to record my notes using voice notes and listen to them before a major test on the bus. Some may find listening to instrumental music such as classical, jazz or R&B stimulating to the brain. This may be an option for auditory learners.

Others may prefer to study outdoors at a park in their neighborhood or sit by the pool or go to the beach when you have to read a few chapters before a big test. In some cases, working out while studying in short increments can improve memory and concentration.

Try writing notes in red because red pens are the most visible color to the eye you are more likely to remember during the test. You can also use this method when making flashcards. Quizlet is an online platform that can be useful when studying.

Turn off all mobile devices and television to limit distractions even if you have to asks a family member or friend to hide them from you for an hour or so. Also make sure you are not laying in bed when you study. Only use your bed for sleeping not studying!

Letting a lot of light into your room or study space can be helpful as well. So open up those blinds and make sure you have a quiet space to study. Even if you have to literally put a sign on your door that says "DO NOT DISTURB, STUDYING IN PROGRESS" just do it!

Expect The Unexpected

It may seem tedious but study all of the material not just what the teacher says you should know in case you get thrown a curveball. But this does not mean to restudy what you already know. Focus on the main concepts first and then analyze the main details.

Make sure to prep before the test the night before by getting plenty of sleep (7-8 hours). Set your alarm clock as well so you do not run late! Being late for the test can induce more anxiety and make it more difficult to concentrate.

Be sure to eat something before the test. People like to say you need a big meal beforehand but do not realize how early middle school and high school students wake up especially if you have to catch the bus. A apple or banana, cup of yogurt, or peanut butter toast will work too.

Make sure you pack a couple pencils and erasers in case one breaks. Wear comfortable clothing so you won't be too cold or irritable during the test. Make sure you know what room you need to be in during the test and map out the best route to get there in time.

Trust In Yourself

Just breathe. When you start to feel anxious or any other symptoms take deep breath’s. After each question give yourself a short break to pause in between. Don’t stare at the clock.

Try your best not to focus on others around you. Even when everyone else in the room is getting up to submit their test you sit there and take your time baby.

Don‘t rush to finish to keep up with everybody else because that same person who looks so confident may have failed or been in a hurry to be somewhere else. Let them finish and you use all the time they give you.

Practice these positive affirmations in the mirror and remind yourself that you got this!

I release the need to judge myself.

I’ve done my best to study for this test and I am well prepared.

I have the ability to pass this test and I am not a failure.

Know You Are Not Alone

Lastly, know that you are never alone. When it comes to testing we’ve all been through it and you might be surprised what tricks and tips we have up our sleeve.

So talk to your teacher if you are not understanding the material early on in the semester. See if they can meet with you after class or before school for one on one tutoring.

If you are in a noisy study hall ask the teacher if you can visit another teacher during that time.

Download study apps on your phone such as Quiz let, Evernote, and my study life to practice material before the test.

Connect with friends or classmates who are doing well and set aside time for a study session together.

Reach out to family members as well if you are struggling to learn material to find ways to limit distractions at home.

You are already taking a step in the right direction by reading this article, so stay calm and know you can do it!

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