Last Updated On: August 12th, 2020
In this third installment, we will look at Test Anxiety during The Test itself! You’ve studied, practiced, reviewed, and prepped in every way that you could. Let’s look at ways to keep that stress from getting in the way of your test performance. All of that fantastic knowledge that you have doesn’t do you any good if the stress and anxiety of taking the test blocks you from accessessing what you’ve worked so hard to put in your brain. Luckily, there are ways to outsmart your anxiety.
To read our first installment: Test Anxiety: Dealing With Stress Before Your Test Day
To read our second installment: Test Anxiety: Dealing With Stress on Test Day
If you’re distracted by stress, touch things
Remember that the primary cause of test anxiety is being out of the present. 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 the test questions aren’t there. The test questions are in the present.
Don’t forget that 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 the single test question in front of you
Consider using the Three Pass System
The Three Pass System (see our Test Anxiety: Dealing With Stress on Test Day blog) is a way to approach tests with timing issues or stress associated with them. It can help to have a strategy for approaching tests/sections of tests like these. In this system, you go through the test three times, focusing on different question types. Detailed instructions and descriptions of the three passes are available in the supplemental section.
With this approach, you get a feeling of accomplishment and ‘warming up’ from the 1st pass, allowing you to relax more for the 2nd pass, which lets you access your brain more efficiently in this key pass.
After the first two passes, the 3rd pass can focus on strategy approaches, plus you are able to use any reminders that you got from the first two passes.
Have a letter/position picked in advance for multiple choice questions
There is comfort in having a plan for unknown problems. Take away the stress of ‘What letter should I guess?’. You are GUESSING; save your mental energy for the questions that you are working by having a letter chosen in advance (or a position: first, second, third if your answers aren’t lettered consistently)
Deal with that awful anxiety effect: Brain Freeze
This technique is for the complete brain freeze. You know the one. When your brain so completely shuts down that the test question looks like it is in whatever language you can’t read. That one. There IS a way out of this. You are not doomed for the rest of the exam. What you need to do is unlock your brain.
To do this you need an object that you don’t always see. Depending on the test, you may need to get creative. If it is a classroom test, you can usually bring in a small random object without much problem (figurines, keychains, odd erasers) If you’re in a more stringent test (CSET, I’m looking at you) you will need to get creative. (They will let you bring in hair bands as long as they’re in your hair to start). It is good if your object is unusual so you can focus on it for a while. If you get brain freeze in your test, take out your object and look at it, carefully. Turn it over, move it around, stretch it, look deeply at it.
While you are doing this, your brain will be SCREAMING at you (“What are you doing? You only have ___ minutes left! This test is so important! Why are you staring at this thing? Get back to the question!). The thing to remember is that, until you unlock your brain, staring at the test questions is not going to help you at all, you might as well stare at your object.
Continue to explore your object as long as your brain screams at you, trust me, it’s not as long as you think; your brain can not keep this up very long. It will eventually give up. You will know when this happens, because your brain will shut up and you will usually take a deep breath.
At this point, put your object away and turn back to the question. It will look completely different. Now it doesn’t guarantee that you will instantly know the answer, but you will definitely have much more access to all of that knowledge that you studied so hard to get, and you will be able to continue the test in the best way.
Talk to your tutor
If you have a tutor or a teacher, friend, or family member that has supported you during your preparation journey, it can be hard to be facing the test without their support. It can be helpful to have imaginary conversations with your support person during the test.
Imagine that they are there. Think about what they would say. Remember what they advised. Ask their opinion, and your memory can bring out not only advice, but the feeling of comfort and support that they would give you if they could be there.
Now you have the tools in your toolbox to crush this test! If you have any other tips that have worked for you or other students, please drop them in the comments below!