Do you ever feel the test heeby jeebies? Do your palms get sweaty at the thought of the teacher handing out the test papers to the class? Does your heart skip a beat when the teacher announces the next big test or exam? Do you start furrowing your brow when you notice the next big test is only a few days away?
Anxiety is a completely normal reaction to the prospect of being ‘tested’. Why? Well, you are going to be held accountable for what you’ve learnt…and no one likes to be held accountable! What if you haven’t been doing your homework? What if you haven’t been reading the textbook like the teacher asked? What if you haven’t been revising anything? What if you haven’t been making mind maps as you go along? What if the questions on the page don’t match the information in my head!? What if… what if…what if…
This response is normal. In fact, it’s actually good for you because it will give that little bit of motivation you need to start getting ready for the test with some revision, some mind mapping, some text book power reading (you know, when you skim through the book in about 10 mins and hope you managed to remember everything)…and so on. What is unusual is when the anxiety itself is so great that it actually interferes with your ability to study for the test and complete the test successfully. Significant amounts of anxiety can and will impair your ability to learn properly, your ability to remember and retain information and even worse, your ability to perform and demonstrate what you know at the time of the test. That’s why it’s so important that you deal with anxiety head on and never ignore it or allow it to consume you.
The Warning Signs
Now, before you rush off to a clinical psychologist to get treatment for your self- diagnosis of ‘test anxiety’ let’s just take a look at the signs that you may in fact be feeling a tad too anxious for your liking. If you answer YES to four or more of the following you should consult your physician (just kidding we’ll tell you how to powerfully overcome it)
- I find it very difficult to find the motivation to study for an upcoming test (who doesn’t…am I right people?)
- I allow just about anything to distract me when I’m studying for a test (seriously, I may even clean my room I’m that distracted right now)
- I ‘know’ I will mess up the test and get a low score regardless of how much I actually study…so why study at all?
- When in a test situation or environment, I actually feel physical distress such as tense muscles, knotted stomach or jabbing stomach pains, headache, inability to breathe correctly and remain calm, sweaty and/or shaking unsteady hands.
- When in a test situation or environment, the directions and questions on the test can become confusing and hard for me to follow.
- When in a test situation or environment, I struggle to organize my thoughts properly and I often find myself having ‘mental blanks’ where all knowledge has suddenly disappeared.
- When in a test situation or environment, my mind can wander to other ideas and thoughts that are not related to how to successfully complete the test or respond to the question you should be addressing (OK what’s the answer? Mmm…I really like candy cane…gosh darn it…maths OK I’m doing maths….focus…focus…mmm…I love hamburgers too…oh crud I’m in trouble)
- I typically score lower in tests than I do in other assignments, papers and tasks that do not involve being under test conditions.
- After the test (and after the pressure has abated…phew!) I can quite easily recall information that I could have used during the test to answer the questions or even to improve the answers I did put down.
So, how did you go?
Your Zen Strategy
The fact is, many of you (if not all of you) will relate to some or several of these warning signs. Again, that is a natural reaction and response to being under test conditions. However, if you find that you relate to more than a few of them, and that it is really hindering your ability to study for and complete tests successfully, then it’s time to put in place your Zen strategy.
- Employ powerful study habits that will allow you kick some test butt. Check out the six habits of highly successful students.
- If you fear failing the test itself or fear not being good enough, check out our strategy on fear of failure and start confronting those limiting beliefs immediately.
- Always think positively and maintain only positive beliefs. Destroy any thought that creeps in like ‘you’re gonna fail this test sucker!’ and replace it with ‘I will succeed, I always succeed, nothing can stop me’. You may not believe so, but positive thoughts like these said over and over to yourself until such time as you understand them to be ‘truths’ will lead to you being far more confident and successful than ever before. You should start saying positive things to yourself every single day and see what an amazing difference it makes – even within days and weeks your attitude can shift completely.
- When studying, look forward to the study paying off and to your great score in the test as a result. The test is merely giving you an opportunity to demonstrate everything you know, so view it as an opportunity to succeed and dominate. ‘All this hard work is going to pay off for me because I deserve it’.
- Sleep well and eat right. Junk food can cause your sugar levels to peak and trough leading to tiredness, moodiness, anger…not really ideal for studying or sitting a test! Eat foods that keep you alert and get plenty of sleep. Your brain takes what you have learnt during the day and files it away when you sleep…so if you don’t get enough you won’t retain as much information and much of your studying will be wasted.
- Focus on your breathing when studying for a test and during the test (see breathing mastery here) and remember to continue your positive mantra from point three – ‘I will succeed, I always succeed, nothing can stop me, I can do this’
- When you are under test conditions, always have a plan of attack and be ready to employ it. Take a look at the ROTER strategy for some ideas. If you find yourself panicking or getting anxious because of the difficulty of the test, just remember the plan you put in place and stick to it. Don’t deviate from your plan. Remember: freak outs are not a plan!
- When the test is done, forget about it…for now. It’s done. Move on. Your focus must shift straight away to whatever is next. Think about athletes. Once today’s game or event is done the focus becomes the next game or event. They don’t mull over it endlessly. The focus shifts. You must also shift your focus straight away.
- When the results come back, look at them, learn from them and use them to reinforce your positive beliefs about yourself and your actions. If the result is not what you wanted, address those areas that must be addressed. If you messed up a section, so be it. Learn from it. See what you are doing well. See what needs work. You will say to yourself ‘When I get that section spot on I will be getting straight A’s’. See how this works? You always put a positive slant on things. You will succeed. You will dominate. Believe in yourself. Anything is possible for you if you believe it. Negative thoughts have no place in your mind and they won’t serve you well…so don’t employ them as part of your Zen strategy.
It’s What You Know That Matters
In order to do well on a test you have to know the material. There are no two ways about it. You need to know what the fudge you are talking about. So give yourself the best chance to show what you know by employing the Zen strategy. Severe anxiousness is caused by fear. But you have nothing to fear. Fear is in your head. The test is asking you to demonstrate what you know about the subject…so make sure you know something about it…that is all.