I learned that I had test anxiety when I had to take the “WASL” my sophomore year in high school (Washington Assesment of Student Learning). Luckily for me, the WASL wasn’t timed. So I was consistently put into the “over-flow” room, and on two different occasions was the last student of my entire 400 person class to finish the written portion (I somehow managed to stay after school hours). The SATs were much worse. Timed testing has never been for me.
So when I came to the UW and took my first midterm ever in a room of over 300 students, I was overwhelmed. I had studied my textbook forward and backward. Reviewed my notes at least three times. Had notecards of key vocublary words. I even made myself my own study guide, approximately ten pages long – color coded of course. But when the test was placed on my desk, the adrenaline of preparing to put everything I know on paper was overwhelming. Everyone’s tests were face down, and we were all waiting for the professor’s cue, “You may now begin.” It sounded so scary and official. I heard hundreds of papers immediately flip over, pencils scribbling on the exams. Some people flipping through faster than others. I was so distracted, and immediately began to doubt everything that I knew.
I got a B on my first midterm. Which wasn’t bad. Except when I got my test back and looked at all the questions that I got wrong – I wanted to kick myself. I knew the answers to all of those questions. But I felt rushed, anxious, and distracted. Since then, I have been on a mission to lessen the anxiety I get before taking a big test. Here is what I’ve discovered…
1. Don’t Be a Drama Queen
Are you guilty of the “This is going to suck. I’m so scared. Oh my god, I’m going to fail. I don’t know anything.” statements? I was. I did it before almost every test. It was like my way of defending myself in case I actually did fail. I gave myself no credit. I’ve since discovered that it never helps my cause. The truth is that it is “just a test”, even though it may not feel this way. And it’s very likely that if you are worrying this much about it, you are much more prepared than you think. Instead try to just repeat a simple mantra and/or meditate on it a few minutes before class to give yourself a little more of a positive outlook. For example, when I’m walking to class I will now repeat to myself “I have studied. I know what I need to know. This is just a test.” or something along those lines.
Try the following breathing exercise to help calm your nervous system down before a test. Breathe in (through your nose) for a slow count to five, fill up your lungs all the way. Hold your breath for a slow count to five. Exhale through your nose, as you empty your lungs all the way to a slow count of five. Repeat as much as you need. This is by far one of my favorite breathing exercises ever to just get rid of any anxiety you might have right before getting your test. I will do it when I’m sitting in my chair waiting to begin to get rid of any jitters I might have. I’ve gotten some weird looks – but I sware by this technique.
It’s proven that those who exercise and just “move” regularly, have healthy brains. Moving will also just help get any stress out of your mind/body. So run, do yoga, dance in your room – do what you have to do to just move for ten minutes or so the night before or morning of the test. Also check out my blog on how “Yoga can Help you Study” for tips on how to incorporate your practice WHILE you are studying.
If it’s 11:00pm, and you’re still trying to study… stop. You know what you know by now. The more you study at this point, the less sleep you get, and less sleep = lower performance on your test. Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s rest. This is one thing I have always stuck to, and continue to. Your brain NEEDS sleep to do well. Also – less sleep will make you more aggrivated and easily prone to worse anxiety before your test. Also on this subject – do NOT study the morning before (or minutes before) your test either. It drives me up the wall when I see people around me flipping through thier notes minutes before the test is supposed to start. Just take this time to help yourself relax, feed yourself a healthy breakfast. Trust that you know what you need to know!
5. Fuel your Brain
Another thing to never underestimate, is what you consume. When you eat, you’re not just feeding your tummy. Your fueling a LOT of things in your body – including your brain. Your brain which not only controls how well you do on your test, but also controls the anxiety you may begin to feel. Pumping yourself full of lots of refined sugars (doughnuts, bagels, etc. fancy lates, etc.) may not be the best idea before a test. This includes energy drinks which I’ve never been a fan of. Note that caffeine can also fuel your anxiety sometimes. Try some calming teas, and oatmeal is always a good option for a pre-finals breakfast. Read my post on some good foods for “Brain Fuel“, I also include a list of some of my favorite “study snacks”.
6. Where are You Tense?
You know better than anyone else where you “carry stress”. For me, I carry stress in my jaw, on my shoulders/neck, and in my low back. This means that before finals – these areas are more tense than usual. Take a moment to “feel” where the stress is in your body. I might try to massage my neck when I wake up in the morning. One of my favorite books that I have is called “Healing Touch Therapies” it breaks down symptoms, and where/how to relieve the stress in certain areas of your body. Have you ever tried massaging your own feet – I HIGHLY recommend!! Do a little research on reflexology or acupressure. One of my favorite spots is on your cheek bones! Place both of your index fingers on either cheek bone, directly under your pupils. Press firmly, and hold for at least one minute. You’ll start to notice tension in other areas of your face release – this is also GREAT for facial complexion
7. Yoga Poses for Anxiety
Yoga itself is proven to relieve anxiety – so if you practice regularly, you may notice that your test anxiety may be much more mild than before. Some of these poses below are just a small sample of some that are great to do the morning of and/or night before taking your test. Just set aside a few minutes to do some of these for yourself, and reap the benefits.
Standing Forward Fold
Legs up the Wall