Performance anxiety is a recognized psychological condition in which one’s very fear of performing badly at something causes this to happen, in something of a self-fulling prophecy. For instance, some people are afraid of performing poorly during sex, and this causes the release of adrenaline, which interferes with the brain’s activity, causing the person to do poorly. When we’re dealing with performance anxiety regarding test-taking, we speak of test anxiety. This is simply where stress about taking the test causes you to experience “brain freeze,” and to not remember things that you thought you had committed to memory.
As we mentioned, the primary culprit in test anxiety is adrenaline—released because of fear. Fear causes the release of adrenaline, because this is the hormone that causes your heart to beat faster so that you can escape from dangerous situations. It’s a protection mechanism. But with something like test-taking, it becomes a problem, because the symptoms associated with the release of adrenaline interfere with your thinking processes. The pumping of adrenaline causes you to have trouble with your memory and with problem-solving skills. The result: Worrying about a test actually causes you to do worse on it.
Is there any hope to battle test anxiety? Absolutely! In fact, here are eight proven ways to overcome performance anxiety as it relates to taking exams.
Here, then, are some strategies for beating this self-fulfilling prophecy.
1) First, find ways to relax. This means, for starters, sit in a comfortable position as you’re testing, with comfortable lighting. Before you begin the actual test, try a couple of easy breathing exercises, to get you in the right frame of mind. Some people even find that saying a short prayer helps them relax.
2) Think confident thoughts. Remember, the reason that adrenaline flows during tests is out of fear that you’ll do poorly. So if you think confident thoughts instead, the adrenaline will not flow so freely, and you’ll be more relaxed, and perform better. What’s it mean to think confident thoughts? First, think of all of the tests you’ve done well on—especially the ones where you surprised yourself. Think about how well you know the material. Finally, refuse to entertain thoughts like “I’m going to bomb this test.”
3) Get help. Nothing builds confidence that you know what you’re doing than a qualified instructor, showing you the ropes, and verifying that you have a good grasp of the material. For some, this means spending time with the instructor. Others choose to hire a tutor. Both are good ways to build confidence.
4) Take care of your body. Test anxiety is a physical reaction to stress that’s going on inside your brain. You can combat this reaction by taking care of yourself. This means you should get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet. It’s especially important that you do these things in the week or two prior to the exam.
5) Read the test instructions at a slow and careful pace. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, this sets a comfortable, relaxing pace before getting into the test itself. Plus, the directions should help you better organize your thoughts before you tackle the questions.
6) Avoid caffeine and energy drinks the night before and the hours right before the test. These will cause you to feel jittery—something that doesn’t help someone who is already prone to experiencing anxiety.
7) Making an outline before you tackle an essay portion is a great way to fight anxiety. The outline serves to help you organize your thoughts, so whenever your brain freezes, you just consult the outline, and it should help put you back on track.
8) We’ve saved the best for last: To best overcome test anxiety, make sure that you’re well-prepared for the exam. Any time you know positively that you have the answers committed to memory, your confidence level will soar. And confidence will keep your adrenaline from flowing, which will prevent anxiety from defeating you on the test.
None of this assures that you’ll make a perfect score, or even that you’ll do better than average. However, they’re sure to give you a better grade than you would have gotten if you’d just given in to test anxiety.
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