Last Updated On: August 12th, 2020
Because test anxiety is such a common concern, this blog will be broken into three sections. In this first installment, we will deal with the stress before the day of the test. You have a big test coming up. You know it is big; you know it is coming up… and the stress kicks in. Test stress and anxiety can get in our way when we are trying to do our best learning; plus it makes the time leading up to the test miserable when it hits. Here are some strategies to help reduce the stress/anxiety and make the test prep process more enjoyable.
To read our second installment: Test Anxiety: Dealing With Stress on Test Day
To read our third and final installment: Test Anxiety: Dealing With Stress During Your Test
Break your study down into small parts
No matter where you are in your study process, you have things that you can do to prepare: starting now. At this point, fight the urge to lament what you could’ve/didn’t do before. List all of the things that you can do to study for the test. Break ‘Study’, which is vague and impossible, into smaller steps like ‘Take a Practice Test’, ‘Rework Homework Problems’, or ‘Review Notes’. Gather all of your materials; put them into stacks, so they are ready and easy to get when you need them.
Realize that you will not get through all of the things that you could do for the test, and that’s fine. Prioritize things that are the most important and that are the easiest to accomplish. Specific goals are less intimidating than general goals.
Find the “Present Moment” (i.e. where your study materials are)
The primary cause of test anxiety is being out of the present moment. Test anxiety comes from focusing on the past (remember when I did badly before) or focusing on the future (what if I do poorly on this test, the results are so important, etc, etc). The problem with focusing on the past or the future is that your study materials are here in the present. You can’t study in the past or the future.
A simple way to bring yourself back to the present is to touch things. Really touch them. If you are being aware of the texture of your pencil, or the seam on the side of your jeans, or the edge of the table, you are distinctly in the present, where you are. If you can be in the present moment, you can relax, because the only thing in the present is you and your study materials. They are not scary by themselves; they’re just one problem/paragraph/vocab word at a time. You can handle that!
Recognize what you’ve done
As you study in a seemingly endless series of homework, lessons and review, it is easy to lose track of what you have accomplished. Remind yourself of the great work that you have done. Remember it; remind yourself of it.
This is particularly important if you have had an unsuccessful test before. Your brain will remind you of that test, and you may think that you are doomed to the same result. Remind yourself that you are not in the same situation. It is unrealistic to think that, with additional study and work and focus and practice, you would end up with the same result. Does that even make sense? No, it doesn’t.
At a certain point before the test, you will need to acknowledge that you have done all that you were capable of doing in the time you had with the commitments that you had. If you have done preparation, worked with a tutor, studied, did practice work, then you need to acknowledge that to yourself. Give yourself credit for your efforts and trust in them.
Set time to worry/lament
This one usually gets some chuckles, but it can be very useful if you have anxiety thoughts while studying or even during the test. If you find yourself being distracted from the business of studying for or taking the test, assign a time to worry. Put it on your calendar. Seriously. If your test ends at 3, set a time from 4-4:30 to stress out, melt down, freak out and wallow in anxiety.
If your mind wants to think about how awful this could be, then reasoning with it about how unproductive worry is, or telling yourself that you can’t think about it now won’t work, but if you have a set time, an actual time in your calendar that is guaranteed to happen, your brain will be more likely to listen.
Whenever worrisome thoughts come in, tell yourself “Yes, I will totally address this, but not now. I will do this at __________ time.”
If your test isn’t for a while, you may want to set panic dates once or twice a week. Get that panic into a scheduled time, rather than your study time.
Plan a celebration event
No matter what happens in your test, you will have done something fantastic by taking it. Plan a celebration of self care after the test. Whatever self care looks like to you, plan that: a massage, a period of uninterrupted video play, a book and a pet cuddle. Whatever you can think of as a reward, you’ve earned it by taking the test, and it will give you something relaxing to look forward to enjoying.
Use these tips early and often as you prepare for your test. As you get closer to ‘The Day’, check out the next sections in our Test Anxiety series.