Tips to Manage Test Anxiety

You walk into the exam room, there are only five out of the 150 seats taken, but you still feel like you cannot find a good seat. You got here early on purpose, so you can pick exactly which seat you want. Back right. Far enough back where no one will sit behind you, but close enough where you won't have to strain to see the equation on the board. Your classmates file in as you put your headphones in, trying to get yourself in the zone. The exams are passed out, and you begin. You only make it to question 10 before you begin to shake. Your hands wobble, your legs go numb, you can no longer even read what's on your paper. Your head says Get out. Get out now. You can't be here. Everyone is watching you. You cannot finish this test. GET OUT NOW. You grab your things and run out of the room to the bathroom, where you succumb to the panic attack. You rock back and forth, crying for what seems like years but is really 45 minutes. After you compose yourself, you return to the test room, pass in your unfinished exam, and go home to cry some more.

If this sounds like anything even remotely close to what you experience during an exam, then congratulations, you have test anxiety. This may seem like an extreme case, while some students only get the pre-exam jitters, but trust me - this situation is a reality for so many men and women (including myself). I have been struggling with this for a while now, and I want to try and help anyone out there who might need a little guidance in performing the best they can with what they have.

Tips to Manage Test Anxiety:

1. Do not be afraid to ask for help/Use the resources available to you!

Throughout my first year of college, I did not have an accommodation. I had test anxiety, sure, but I felt that I managed it well enough to not need an accommodation for it. During the summer between my first and second year, however, my anxiety and panic disorders grew exponentially, and returning to school, I was unsure if it was finally time for me to request that accommodation. I attempted to push through for a few weeks, but I found it impossible to complete my exams or even attend some of my classes. I knew I needed to reach out and utilize the resources of my campus. Acquiring a testing accommodation for my social and test anxiety was one of the smartest decisions I've made in academics. I am given the environment that suits my needs, and I am performing so much better than before. These programs are made for you, your professors want you to take advantage of them when you need them. Don't think your mental illness "isn't a real disability" or that you "don't deserve special treatment." Sometimes we need a little help getting back on our feet, and there is nothing wrong with seeking out this help.

2. When preparing for an exam, study in a way that makes you comfortable

Nearly everyone I speak to about studying says something along the lines of, "I can't study in my room. I get so distracted. I fall asleep. I need to be in the library or a coffee joint. Somewhere where people around me are being productive." This is all fine and dandy for them, but I completely disagree! I used to study in the library or at this local bagel shop on campus, assuming that's what works best for everyone, but it wasn't. Being in a public place like that works up my nerves, all the keyboard typing and pencils writing just distract me much more than sitting in bed on my computer. Around second semester my freshman year, I began studying in my room. I would find time when my roommates were gone, lay out all my studying materials on my comforter, and just breeze through all my work without any distractions. The point of this story is that what works for everyone else may not work for you. Listen to yourself, your mind, and your body. Figure out what will work best for you.

3. Try not to stress about the outcome of the exam before you've even taken it

I know this is so much easier said than done, but I'm saying it anyway. Stressing about whether you are going to pass or fail this exam will in no way help you. It's so unhealthy to try and predict the future instead of living in the present. Think about the material you know and how hard you worked, and be confident that no matter how difficult the exam is, you will try your best.

4. Bring something to fiddle with/distract yourself with during the exam

Having a beaded bracelet on me when I'm taking an exam is a huge help to me. I will take the bracelet off and roll the beads around in my hand, and the distraction of the toy really helps ease my anxiety. Part of the reason we get anxiety is rumination, or cycling through negative thoughts. Having a physical sensation to focus on can really help break up this negative cycle and bring you back to the present.

5. Practice meditation and self-affirmation before and after the exam

One of the most common things I tell my friends and family when they ask how I cope with my day-to-day anxieties is meditation. This practice isn't good for in the moment anxiety when you need to relax immediately, but incorporating this habit into your daily life can drastically strengthen how connected you are with your body and emotions. Before meditation, it was hard for me to bring myself back to the moment and acknowledge that my thought are just thoughts. Now, while it is still very difficult, I find I can remind myself of what is reality and what is panicked thoughts much faster. Using this in the exam room, I can access my peace of mind quicker and bring myself back to focusing on my exam.

Self-affirmations are also an amazing addition to your lifestyle. Before the exam, try telling yourself you will succeed. The more detail you give the better, and I find "I" statements instead of "you" statements go a long way. For example, instead of, "You're gonna ace this exam," say, "I studied very hard for this exam. I made flashcards and a study guide. I got a good night's rest last night, and the breakfast I ate this morning was very nutritional. I will go into this room, I will sit down, I will take this exam one question at a time until I am finished. I will finish before time is over because I know all the material necessary to complete the exam. If a question is too hard, that is okay. I don't need to answer every single question correctly to still do an amazing job." These very descriptive, step by step affirmations help break down the exam into easier pieces. The "I" statement makes it feel personal, like you are confident in yourself, rather than the "you" statement that sounds like someone is just talking at you.

6. Take the questions one at a time

One of the worst things you can do during the exam is thinking about how many questions there are or how much work needs to get done. Something that works for me is to work from the last problem to the first. This way, I sort of trick myself into thinking it's my last problem because every problem after it has already been completed. Instead of being on question 10 of 50 and saying to yourself "only 40 left!" say "only 1 more" every time. Reminding yourself you only have 1 more question ahead of you makes the exam seem much less daunting. Who cares if there's "only 1 more" 40 more times, it's still a great way to keep things in perspective.

7. Remember, it is only. one. test.

I cannot stress this enough. I used to put so much pressure on myself with my academics (and I still do sometimes). I would think I needed to ace every single exam, pass in every homework on time, do every ounce of extra credit that was possible. I was no neurotic about my grades that I wasn't taking time for myself and my health. One of the most refreshing breakthroughs I had was realizing that school isn't everything. This isn't me telling you to go out to that party when you should be studying or that college is just for drinking and smoking, what I'm saying is that you should not stress over every single little thing you do in school. Let's say you fail an exam. Completely bomb it. You get a 0.0% on this exam. You can always reach out to your professor and figure out what your options are. And no matter how poorly you did on this one stupid exam, you're still here. Your friends still love you. Your family still loves you. You still have a roof over your head and food in your belly, and that's what you should be thankful for. It's the things that truly matter in life that you should think about, not one silly exam. It's only. one. test.