Overcoming Test Anxiety
As students at an Ivy League school, most of us are familiar with the feeling of anxiety that tends to come right before a major exam or paper. For many people, stress is a good thing: It acts as a motivator, giving the necessary push for them to achieve. Yet too much anxiety is another story entirely. When stress gest debilitating- i.e., when you feel like you can’t function, or your mind goes blank- it’s time to start calling this ‘test anxiety’. You might not know that test anxiety is a unique form of performance anxiety; it is defined as a combination of perceived physiological over-arousal, feelings of intense worry or dread, self-deprecating thoughts (negative thinking), tension, and somatic symptoms that occur before an assessment. The feeling you might get before taking a test is thus similar to the feeling an Olympic gymnast might get before mounting the balance beam. In other words, test anxiety is a major psychological issue, and which ought to be taken seriously on our campus.
Test anxiety can have far-reaching physical and emotional effects. Too much stress can lead to an overproduction of adrenaline, causing stomachaches, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, fainting, and an overall sense extreme discomfort. It can also cause low self-esteem, depression, anger, and a sense of hopelessness- which, in some cases, can even lead to thoughts of suicide. This is certainly not a healthy way to experience college, but many cases of test anxiety have been swept under the rug; we feel as though we need to take control of our anxiety, but the more we obsess over it, the worse it becomes. Test anxiety necessarily has behavioral effects, which is to say that thinking negatively actually tends to cause negative outcomes.
Targeting the problem is the first step, but those who struggle with test anxiety must also learn to seek help. Don’t be afraid to contact Brown Psychological Services, or to reach out to a friend. These are important initial resources for getting you back on the path to wellness. Most importantly, know that to change your feelings of anxiety, you have to change your mindset. As in all things, the difference starts with you. Learn to accept mistakes, as opposed to belaboring perceived ‘failures’. Take care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep (as opposed to pulling that dreaded all-nighter), and practice meditation or deep breathing exercises. Try not to let others bring you down. Know that every individual student is different, and that we all have to learn to cope with our stress in different ways. Odds are, that overconfident peer of yours is (or has previously) experienced what you’re feeling.
A final word of advice: Know yourself, and prepare accordingly. If you think you’re going to experience test anxiety, lessen the effect by studying well in advance. Although it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for a major exam, do your best not to put yourself in a perceived fight-or-flight situation. Every semester at Brown is intense, and if we look at it all on the macro level we’ll go crazy. Taking each task one at a time will help you to do each individual task more effectively. It will harness your focus and energy in the moment, and hopefully keep you from experiencing too much anxiety.