In industrialized countries like America, education is seen as the core of success by society and the metric used to determine a successful student is grades. When exaggerated and unnecessary stress is placed on students, they are at a higher risk of exposure to mental setbacks like test anxiety. Test Anxiety is defined, by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo College, as “a physical or mental reaction to feelings of agitation or distress that you might feel before or during an exam”. The article also explains how test anxiety can worsen one’s performance on an exam from blanking out to a full-blown panic attack during the exam.
Symptoms fall into three categories: physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Symptoms such as light-headedness and headache (physical), feelings of anger or despair (emotional), loss of concentration and negative thinking (behavioral) are all examples of indicators that you may be struggling with test anxiety. The prevalence of test anxiety is an alarming among American students. A survey conducted by the American Test Anxieties Association found that 16-20 percent of students suffer from severe test anxiety and another 18 percent suffer from moderate test anxiety.
Test Anxiety has been an obstacle that I have come up against for quite some time. Personally, I have grappled with math for years and test anxiety did not make things easier. Countless hours were spent studying the material in the hopes that my scores would improve, Yet, I struggled through every quiz and exam because of my anxiety. It was a frustrating experience.
Above all, it made me feel stupid for not being able to understand basic concepts when my issue has nothing to do with rationalizing concepts- it had to do with my inability to combat my panicking mind on a test. Going to a top-academically ranked school in my home state of California, I bear witness to fellow students breaking down over their inability to overcome test anxieties in the subjects that they find challenging.
Not to mention, all we hear from teachers is that our grades are the only things that matter and that we can’t fail. This mentality leads to the creation of a whole generation so afraid of failure that the prevalence of mental illness spikes drastically.
I have compiled a list of tips that I’ve personally used to improve my performance in the face of anxiety.
1. Never cram for the test the night before and practice good test-taking habits. These are the first steps in fighting the paralyzing effects of testing anxiety. Spreading out the memorization of relevant information over the course of a few weeks not only helps with learning the information in a more efficient way, but also works against test anxiety.
2. Give yourself breaks of time to engage in distressing activities. By engaging in activities such as; yoga, listening to music, playing video games or any other stress-relief activity, you are able to stave off pre-exam anxieties and allow your brain time to process the information.
3. Taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically, can help minimise your chances of becoming ill. Eating healthy and getting decent sleep will keep your brain in better shape and will reduce the amount of stressors that can arise before your exam.
4.Seek out tutoring if you are still struggling. There is no shame in needing a little bit of extra help and it will benefit your results in the long term. Check with your academic counsellor or your teachers for some possible tutors or talk with your parents about hiring a private tutor. Having another person approaching the subject material in a different way from your teacher might help with understanding concepts and lessening anxiety. Also if you are struggling mentally speak to your schools guidance/pastoral care teachers or the school nurse as they can provide support for you.
I know that it can be frustrating to struggle with test anxiety and be ready to throw the towel when it feels insurmountable. But test anxiety can be overcome.
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