Conquering Test Anxiety

It’s October. You might feel a chill in the air. You might crave a pumpkin spice latte. And educators might sense a lot of text anxiety in the classroom. Test anxiety rises as the SATs and ACTs approach and for some students, the effects can be debilitating. The American Test Anxieties Association website reports that 16–20% of students have high test anxiety.

Test anxiety, like all anxiety, is the body reacting to anticipating stress. Bodies release adrenaline when they’re stressed out; adrenaline gets the body ready for danger. Adrenaline causes the physical signs of stress: your heart beats faster than normal, you sweat and you breathe fast.

Some anxiety can motivate students to work harder. But if they start to obsess, anxiety can hold them back. Ironically, worrying too much about doing well on a test could get in the way of doing well on the test!

Here are some simple tips for dealing with test anxiety.

  1. Emphasize that students who feel their performance is being affected should talk to someone. Help is available.
  2. Help students recognize that everyone experiences some test anxiety.  Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel nervous, and that nerves are not a sign that a student is going to fail. In fact, taking a test is common adult nightmare, even years after graduation.
  3. Remind students to take care of themselves. It sounds boring. And their instinct might be to stay up all night cramming. But sleepless nights and too much junk food can affect their their anxiety levels.
  4. Focus on positive thinking. Does this line of thought sound familiar? “I don’t know this chapter very well. That means I’m going to fail the test! That means I won’t go to college. I’m going to fail life!” Talk to students about monitoring their thoughts and what can happen when worry starts to spin out of control. Talk about focusing on the positive (I know: easier said than done.) “I don’t know this chapter very well, so I am going to read it again to master it” might be a better response, for example.
  5. Help students recognize the effects of stress on their bodies. Adrenaline can cause physical symptoms: rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension. Help students to realize when stress is affecting them physically.

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