This post was written by Dr. Jasna Vuk and Ashley Phillips in the Student Success Center. For more information on learning services and resources offered by the Student Success Center visit the Student Learning Services page.
Have you ever walked into a test and started to sweat, felt your heart racing, or had trouble concentrating? This could be test anxiety. One of us (Ashley) had a professor in graduate school who could bring about these symptoms in his students just by saying, “Sit down & take out your blue books”. Let’s look at some causes of test anxiety and some ways to address it. Because this will be general information, we’ve listed several in-depth resources at the bottom of this post.
Sometimes when students don’t do well on a test, or have only one major test in a class, they begin to worry about the future. They believe that they’ll earn low grades on future tests as well, or they picture a negative outcome for the entire course. Instead of focusing on possible events that have not happened, we encourage you to focus on positive action steps that you can control right now.
For test anxiety that presents itself in negative thoughts or fears about the future, using positive self-talk is one way to stay grounded in the present. For example, if you begin to feel anxious, think positively to yourself about what you can control. Think something like, “I know that I’ve studied for this test. I’m going to answer each question one at a time. I’ll put a mark next to any question I’d like to revisit, and I’ll come back to it at the end. I may remember the answer as I’m completing the rest of the test”. Focus on the positive, and focus on what you can control.
Relaxation exercises also can give you a chance to step back from the situation for a moment. Being more relaxed can help you remember the information you’ve studied. Some relaxation exercises include breathing in deeply and exhaling slowly, visualizing a peaceful and relaxing setting, or tensing and releasing specific groups of muscles.
Sometimes, though, test anxiety comes from not preparing well. Some students try to “cram” their studying into the last few days before a test, and will skip meals or stay up all night right before a test. Being hungry, tired, and limited on time means that the information will be harder to learn in the first place, as well as harder to recall on the test. In this case, test anxiety can be an indicator that you could be preparing better. Instead of cramming, take the time to review information daily, and set aside enough time to complete any last assignments and to take care of yourself.
We hope that the next time you take a test, you find yourself well-prepared and able to take positive action steps. More information about test anxiety and preparing for tests is available on the Learning Resources page of the Student Success Center website. To discuss anxiety with a health professional, contact the UAMS Student Wellness Program at 501-686-8408.
Causes of Test Anxiety, UAMS Student Success Center, Dr. Jasna Vuk, July 2015
Symptoms of Test Anxiety, UAMS Student Success Center, July 2015
Test Preparation, UAMS Student Success Center, July 2015
Changing Negative Self-Talk, UAMS Student Success Center, July 2015
Relaxation Exercises, UAMS Student Success Center, July 2015
The Day of the Test, UAMS Student Success Center, July 2015