Taking exams causes anxiety for most college students

Most college students experience some level of anxiety during an exam. However, when anxiety affects test performance it can become a problem.


General preparation, confidence-building guidelines:

• Review your personal situation and skills.

• Develop good study habits and strategies.

• Managing time (dealing with procrastination, distractions, laziness). Organize material to be studied and learned.

• Take a step-by-step approach to build a strategy and not get overwhelmed. Outside pressures success/failure consequences (grades, graduation), peer pressure, competitiveness, etc.

• Review your past performance on tests to improve and learn from experience.


Tips for test preparation to reduce anxiety:

• Approach the exam with confidence:

• Use whatever strategies you can to personalize success: Visualization, logic, talking to yourself, practice, team work, journaling, etc. View the exam as an opportunity to show how much you’ve studied and to receive a reward for the studying you’ve done.

• Be prepared! Learn your material thoroughly and organize what materials you will need for the test. Use a checklist.

• Choose a comfortable location for taking the test with good lighting and minimal distractions.

• Allow yourself plenty of time, especially to do things you need to do before the test and still get there a little early.

• Avoid thinking you need to cram just before the exam.

• Strive for a relaxed state of concentration. Avoid speaking with any fellow students who have not prepared, who express negativity, who will distract your preparation.

• A program of exercise is said to sharpen the mind.

• Get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam.

• Don’t go to the exam with an empty stomach. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often recommended to reduce stress. Stressful foods can include processed foods, artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, eggs, fried foods, junk foods, pork, red meat, sugar, white flour products, chips and similar snack foods, foods containing preservatives or heavy spices. Take a small snack, or some other nourishment to help take your mind off of your anxiety. Avoid high sugar content (candy).


During the exam:

• Read the directions carefully.

• Budget your test-taking time.

• Change positions to help you relax.

• If you go blank, skip the question and go on.

• If you’re taking an essay test and you go blank on the whole test, pick a question and start writing. It may trigger the answer in your mind.

• Don’t panic when students start handing in their papers. There’s no reward for being the first done.


Avoid tensing and getting anxious during the test:

• Relax; you are in control. Take slow, deep breaths.

• Don’t think about the fear. Pause: Think about the next step and keep on task, step by step.

• Use positive reinforcement for yourself: Acknowledge that you have done, and are doing, your best.

• Expect some anxiety. It’s a reminder that you want to do your best and can provide energy. Just keep it manageable.

• Realize that anxiety can be a “habit,” and that it takes practice to use it as a tool to succeed.


After the test,review how you did:

• List what worked, and hold onto these strategies. It does not matter how small the items are: They are building blocks to success.

• List what did not work for improvement.

• Celebrate that you are on the road to overcoming this obstacle.

• Check out local centers and resources in your school for assistance. If you are aware that you have a problem with test anxiety, be sure your teacher or instructor knows before any testing begins (and not the hour before). There may be other options to evaluate your knowledge or performance within the subject matter.


• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email Info@ArizonaCollegePlanners.com.

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