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Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety

Have you ever been thoroughly prepared for an exam, sat down to take it, and not been able to answer a single question? If your answer is "YES!" you may suffer from test anxiety. Test anxiety occurs when you are plagued by thoughts of failure before an exam. Everyone worries about doing well on an exam, but people who suffer from test anxiety allow their worries to consume them. As a result, such people often "freeze up" when it comes time to take the exam, and they do not do as well as they could have. Fortunately if you suffer from test anxiety, there is hope.

Listed below are a number of techniques that can help you learn to control your negative thoughts. Select a couple of these techniques and practice using them until they become like second nature to you.

  • Yell "STOP!" When you are aware of negative or worrisome thoughts racing through your head, mentally yell "STOP!" This should end these thoughts long enough for you to use some of the following techniques.

  • Daydream. Fill your head with pleasant ideas or pictures. If you do this there shouldn't be any room left for the troublesome thoughts that create test anxiety.

  • Focus. Replace your negative thoughts by focusing on a specific object. It is impossible to think about two things at once, so if you put all of your energy into focusing on a neutral object, you won't be able to worry about your upcoming exam.

  • Praise yourself. Give yourself lots of positive self-talk. Remind yourself of how well prepared you are and of how capable you are of doing well on the exam.

  • Consider the worst. If you find yourself unable to let go of negative thoughts, go ahead and let them spin out of control. Let yourself imagine the very worst that could happen. Then test these fears. Ask yourself if they can be realistically justified. Chances are, your worst fears are probably pretty darn irrational and they are not going to come true. When you realize this, your original fears will become more manageable.

  • Convince yourself that you are not your test score. How you do on your test is not a measure of what you are as a person. Even if you do fail a test, it will not make you a complete failure. Don't make the mistake of defining yourself in terms of external events. 

  • Distinguish between demands and preferences. If you place demands on yourself to pass an exam or to be perfect, you are setting yourself up to experience a lot of stress and anxiety. Instead of saying "I absolutely must pass this exam!" try saying "I would like to do well on this exam, but if I make a mistake, that is okay. After all, I am only human , and humans make mistakes.

  • Reward yourself for making it through the test. You worked hard preparing for the exam, and even if you didn't do as well as you had hoped, you still deserve a pat on the back for making it through the exam. CONGRATULATIONS!!! Allow yourself to have some guilt-free fun.

Adapted from Ellis, D. (1985). Becoming a Master Student. Rapid City:  College Survival, Inc.