Test Anxiety Ain't Nuthin': How to Overcome Nervousness during Exam Time
Updated: Jul 20, 2021
The Little Gregory Saga: A Tale of Testing Tragedy
Little Gregory strolls into the classroom. He confidently takes his seat at his desk, pulls out his notebook and pen, and sits quietly ready for class to begin. From his smooth composure, you wouldn't know that he spent all last night preparing for today's math test.
The bell rings and Mr. Cavanaugh starts handing out the test. Little Gregory stares down at the paper in front of him and the confidence slowly melts from his face. Everything he learned about math last night has vanished. His mind just "blanked out".
He spends the first five minutes just staring vacantly at the test. He feels all this nervous energy bubbling in his body, and thoughts of doom like "I am definitely going to fail" float in his mind. He spends the rest of the class period fumbling with the questions on the test before reluctantly handing it in.
His worst nightmares are realized when he sees his grade a few days later. Another defeating reminder that he is dumb and no good at school.
Little Gregory's experience was one that is all too common for so many of the students that I teach. They study hard and prepare like they are supposed to, but when it comes time to take the test, they bomb it. The culprit? Test anxiety.
Test Anxiety the Torturer
Test anxiety is the feeling of nervousness you get when you are taking or about to take a test, quiz, or exam. Test anxiety is a plague that destroys test grades every year. Students feel so much stress from testing that they become incapable of showing what they really know. The pressure of having to perform puts them in a place where their mind goes blank.
If we had closely observed Little Gregory from the story, we would have seen under his cool, confident exterior that the signs of test anxiety were showing.
Getting antsy in his chair when the test was about to come out, his heartbeat quickening as Mr. Cavanaugh handed him his test, his sweaty palms as he stared blankly for the first few minutes at his paper. All of these are a stress response to test anxiety.
You may be familiar with all these feelings too. The good news is that there is a solution to your test anxiety woes.
Toning Down Test Anxiety
Test anxiety is a stress response to a perceived danger. So we have to convince you that taking a test is not dangerous. And once you feel safe taking a test, then you will find that your mind doesn't blank out; you actually remember everything.
It's kinda like if you were chilling at the zoo admiring the tigers when suddenly one comes sprinting towards you lightning fast. For a moment, while you felt like you were about to become a tiger meal, your mind would only be able to think of escaping danger, and you probably wouldn't even be able to tell me your own name if I asked.
But once you realize the tiger can't actually hurt you, then you calm down, your mind doesn't have to work overdrive to escape danger anymore, and you can remember your name.
So how can you learn to tone down your test anxiety? Well I'll tell ya, my amigo. There are three ways that I have found to be very effective for managing test anxiety. Those are conscious breathing, telling the truth, and mental rehearsal.
Take a moment right now to breathe. Take a slow inhale through your nose as you count to 10. Then exhale out of your mouth as you count to 10 again. Repeat this 5 times. How do you feel? Well if you actually did it, I bet you feel calmer, more relaxed, and slower.
Notice that all those feelings are the exact opposite of the test anxiety feelings. When a tiger attacks, everything about you (mind, heart, body) all have to move faster to escape becoming lunch. Controlled breathing slows everything down. It is a signal to your body that you are safe and that everything is OK.
Next time you start to feel anxious about taking a test, just stop and breathe. Do it like I described here. 10 seconds in, 10 seconds out, repeat 5 times. The cool thing about breathing is that you can literally do it anywhere. I mean you kinda have to do it if you want stay alive, so you might as well make it worthwhile, right?
I promise you that if you breathe deeply, you will feel calmer and your mind will start working again. No more blanking out.
Telling The Truth
You may be thinking to yourself, "Greg, how the hell is telling the truth going to help my test anxiety?" Well I'm going to tell you, Bucko.
Little Gregory had them. You might have them too. These little devious thoughts like "I am going to fail" or "I have no idea how to do this". Well IF you genuinely studied and prepared, then these thoughts are big fat lies. You are lying to yourself, and you need to stop. It's like the opposite of the Nike slogan. JUST DON'T DO IT.
The danger is if you let yourself think these negative thoughts, then you start to believe them, and once you believe them, then it is game over. Your thoughts create your beliefs, your beliefs create your behavior, and your behavior creates your reality. Wouldn't you rather live in a reality where you are going to succeed instead?
So every time you are thinking "I am going to fail" or "I have no idea what to do" or "I am so dumb", catch yourself. Say to yourself, "Hey, I know you are feeling scared, but those thoughts simply aren't true."
Tell yourself the truth. "We studied and prepared for this test. We know the material. We are ready." Preferably you would say this out loud to yourself, and if you don't want everyone thinking you are a weirdo, then you can whisper it to yourself too.
Notice how you feel after you say this. It should feel like you are comforting this scared part of yourself like you would do with your scared nephew or little sister. It should feel soothing.
So start telling the truth. Don't allow your brain to lie to you. Every time you have those negative thoughts, catch them and correct them. You will feel much more confident come test time.
The previous two tips were immediate solutions that you could use right when you start feeling test anxiety. This last one is a more long term and permanent solution to test anxiety.
You can actually practice taking tests...in your mind. Yeah crazy, right? You see the brain can't really tell the difference between an actual experience and a powerfully imagined one. It's like a dream that feels real.
Practice it now. Imagine yourself taking a test. Actually close your eyes and see the test in front of you. Imagine what the room would look like, sound like, smell like. Maybe you feel that anxious or nervous energy come in when you start looking at your imagined test. Maybe you notice those negative thoughts pop up too. That's all fine. Just breathe and tell the truth like we discussed before.
Now, the thing you need to do next is imagine yourself doing really well on the test. Actually visualize yourself going through the test and getting all the questions correct. Imagine yourself moving confidently from question to question, and then getting that A+++++ at the end.
Do it everyday. If you do this mental rehearsal everyday for 5 minutes (set a timer on your phone), you will start to feel more calm and confident when you actually take a test in real life. This is brain training at its finest.
This can be a tricky process, but luckily I got your back. If you want to get a program narrated by yours truly that holds your hand and walks you through 30+ daily guided visualizations to help reduce test anxiety, then check out Test Anxiety Knockout
It is an audio course I created that will surround you in a calm, cool, and relaxed whenever you have to take a test, quiz, or exam. All you have to do is sit back and listen for about 20 minutes a day. That's it!
So there you have it. Three ways to help reduce your test anxiety, conscious breathing, telling the truth, and mental rehearsal. Reach out and let me know how these work for you. I love to hear from my students. Stay legendary, amigos!