The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In my general chemistry class during my sophomore year of high school, I stared at the green Scantron. All my life I had seen a Scantron but every single time it sits in front of me, it looks foreign. The letters A through E seem to jumble together, jumping out and screaming at me. The letters sit there, mocking and taunting me saying, “you’re going to fail. You’ll never get into college. You are such a failure.” At this moment, I began crying, in the middle of my chemistry class during the midterm exam. Tears filled my eyes and as I tried to stare at all the questions and equations, my heartbeat got faster and faster, sweat dripping down the side of my face and fists clenching. I wish I could say this was a one-and-done situation. For as long as I can remember, tests were the end all be all, the destiny, and the finish line for my life. However, it wasn’t my fault I felt this way.
Public high schools in America train you to believe that tests are the stepping stone to your future. If your goal is to get an A in the class, the final exam will get you to that goal. Do you want to go to the Army? You have to study for the ASVAB or physical exams. My goal for as long as I can remember was to get into college. It was the only thing that could get me to my dream career. Unfortunately, the stepping stone to college was the SAT and many final exams, too. This goal of college served as an alarm clock in my brain and it went off every homework assignment or test. This alarm wasn’t helpful in any way and served more as a confidence destroyer. Every time I took a test, the alarm went off, “if you fail this test, you are never going to get into college. You are a failure, a disappointment, and will never be successful.” So of course, every test made me feel anxious and led me into a panic attack, causing me to fail the test I had studied for hours and hours for. Even when I began medication for my anxiety disorder, the test found its way to destroy my confidence. Having test anxiety was more than just a source of anxiety, but a source of insecurity. Even though I understood everything being taught in class and got good grades on homework, I managed to get Cs on the tests, which inevitably brought down my grade. Classmates around me, still to this day, say things like, “that test was so easy, I didn’t even need to study.” Hearing everyone around me boast about how easy the material was or how they never need to study made me feel inferior and just plain stupid.
Now in college, every time I am confronted with that daunting Canvas quiz page, it is a different type of worry. It is the fear that I won’t get into graduate school or that the professor of my psychology class will tell me that I need to switch majors. All of these fears, mostly irrational, seriously disable me when it comes to succeeding on an exam. If you struggle with these irrational fears or anxiety before a test, you are not alone. Here is how I help my test anxiety:
Set up a pre-test routine.
I start my routine before the test day with yoga before bed. Whatever helps you sleep, whether that be yoga, some hot tea, or mediation, do it before bed. Make sure you get at least eight hours. The morning of, make yourself a comforting breakfast, whether that be cereal or pancakes, treat yourself with kindness and nurture your mind and body. Sit down 10 minutes before the exam and grab a piece of paper. On this paper, write down everything you are worried about. It doesn’t have to be test-related, just anything that comes to mind, put it on paper. This helps you get rid of all the worry and clear up more space in your mind.
Breathing is everything.
During a test, as your heart races, your breathing can also begin to quicken causing you to hyperventilate. In order to calm your heart and nerves, pause for a second. Place down that pencil, take your hand off of the computer and place your hands in your lap. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and release for six seconds. Repeat this until your heart slows down.
Block out everyone else.
When it comes to academic success and the toxic college hustle culture, it feels almost impossible to not compare yourself to others and their success. Even if somebody brags about how easy a class is or how easy the test is, remind yourself that everybody’s brain functions and works differently. Whatever is easiest for someone else, doesn’t mean it’ll be for you and vice versa. Just because somebody doesn’t have to study for a test does not make them smarter or more successful than you, they are just wired differently.
Recognize your own strengths.
It is easy to criticize ourselves, especially when it is academically related. Write a list of things you are good at, it doesn’t have to be school-related. Are you good at a certain subject or regulating your emotions? Hang up this list near your desk.
Reach out to CU Disability Services.
Test anxiety is classified as a psychological condition and can debilitate your ability to succeed or focus in many areas of your life. CU disability services offer test accommodations for test anxiety. I registered with them when I arrived in the fall and got a distraction-free environment testing room, extra time, and even breaks during classes. Additional paperwork and expert opinion may be needed but it is worth it to reach out and see if you can register for accommodations.
No matter if you experience test anxiety symptoms mildly or extremely, your feelings are valid. No test can ever measure your worth as a person or the value of your role in society. This is just one piece of paper, one Canvas quiz, and a couple of questions in the grand scheme of things.