It's OK to feel some anxiety before an exam; it's when the anxiety is so extreme as to cause paralysis of thought. We all get nervous and tense over important events in our lives. The question becomes is the anxiety rational or irrational. If a student is unprepared for an exam then the anxiety is rational. If the student has prepared thoroughly, then the anxiety is irrational. Anxiety can interfere with performance; therefore, it is wise to address it.
Preparation Minimizes Anxiety
- Prepare properly for a major exam well in advance in reasonable lengths of study periods -- For instance, an hour a day for a few weeks. Make a study schedule and stick to it. Waiting until the last minute and cramming for a test never works in anyone's favor.
- Go over old exams, actually answer the questions, write the steps, check your answers, and make note cards with key concepts.
- If the text book has chapter quizzes or tests, do them, check your answers, understand your mistakes.
- Study for understanding, not memorizing.
- Go to the instructor for individual help.
- Hire a tutor or study with a friend who knows more than you do.
- Find instructional software to use for topics of weakness.
- Do your best. Do not tie your grade to your self-worth.
- Learn for the sake of knowledge not the grade.
- Enjoy the learning.
- Use only positive self-talking in your thoughts.
- Think of a reward for after the exam.
Remember Your Basic Needs
- Keep up good habits of rest, nutrition, exercise, and social interactions - do not freeze up and stop living.
- Pace your studying -- take breaks when you need them (an apple break works wonders!)
- Sleep the night before the test -- by this time you will have followed a rational study program and a restful mind will function best.
- Relaxation methods will calm you down -- breathe, think peaceful thoughts, sit in silence with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. When thoughts come into your mind, push them out, and go back to focusing on your breathing. You can do this anywhere for as little or more time as you need to remain calm.
- Again, relaxation methods will calm you down -- breathe, think peaceful thoughts, sit in silence with your eyes closed.
- Eat a normal breakfast; you must eat properly to function properly.
- The hour or so before the test needs to be spent relaxing not cramming -- that kind of behavior can trigger anxiety minutes before the exam -- and keep your distance from people you see getting anxious. They can affect your stability.
- Arrive at the exam early -- rushing in late can also trigger anxiety. Choose a comfortable seat away from distractions (doors, windows, heaters, air conditioner units).
- Dress in layers -- you never know the temperature of the test location. You need to be warm but also able to peel off layers if the room is overheated.
- While waiting for the exam to begin, have some light reading material available, such as a magazine. This will also relax you. By this point, you are prepared and ready to do your best.
During the exam
- Take a quick look at the length of the exam, so you can pace yourself.
- If a question seems unreasonably difficult for you, skip it and go on to questions you can answer. Come back later to questions you did not answer.
Anxiety Control During the Exam
- Stay rational -- just as the rational and irrational numbers do not intersect in the number system, so it is for your brain.
- If you feel yourself slipping into the irrational zone (anxiety), stop, take a breath, put your pencil down, talk positively to yourself, and relax -- then continue taking the exam.
- Tell yourself -- Now is not the time to be anxious, relax.
- Even say the word "relax" over and over again.
- Focus on the question before you and nothing else.
- Think about the reward you promised yourself.
After the Test
- No matter how you feel you performed on the test, follow through with your reward. And remember, no matter what the results are, the people in your life who loved you before the exam will still love you after the exam.
© 2004-2015 Illana Herzig Weintraub for MathMedia Educational Software, Inc. All rights reserved.