Pencils Down, Your Time Is Up: 5 (+1) Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety (A Reader Request)

For the first time in almost 10 years writing this blog, I’ve had a reader request that I address a particular topic! So, of course, I am very happy to oblige, especially since this particular topic is one that is very important to me as both an educator and a student–TEST ANXIETY!!

I suppose that I’ve been fortunate in this particular area. With all of my anxieties, and there are many, test anxiety is not something from which I’ve ever suffered. I’ve always performed well on tests and taking them never produced much stress for me.

However, that is certainly not true for many friends, family members, and my students. I personally know a large number of people who suffer from test anxiety–some of them experience severe, adverse effects.

What is test anxiety exactly?

In his book, Test Anxiety: The State of the Art (1993), Moshe Zeidner defines test anxiety as, “a combination of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, fear of failure, and catastrophizing, that occur before or during test situations.”

That’s a whole lot of what my grandmother used to call $5 words that basically means when you go in to take a test, you’re so worried about failing or not doing well that your sympathetic nervous system (that part of the nervous system that controls our “fight or flight” response) kicks into overdrive causing both psychological and physical symptoms in the body.

It’s important to note that these symptoms don’t only occur during tests. Often times, people experience anticipatory anxiety (symptoms of anxiety prior to the event) which can cause problems for days or even weeks ahead of time.

What causes test anxiety?

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), some of the causes of test anxiety include: fear of failurelack of preparation, and poor test history.

Fear of Failure
Often times, students who have high expectations for themselves, or whose parents, guardians, family, colleagues, etc. have high expectations for them, have an intense fear of failure. This fear is directly linked to those expectations. Although the expectations are a constant in that student’s life, fear associated with the thought of failure intensifies during tests.

Lack of Preparation
Some students are anxious about tests simply because they did not adequately prepare for them, or because their preparation was hurried or “crammed” into a very short period of time close to the date of the test. As the student becomes aware of their lack of preparation, anxiety sets in about the outcome of the test.

Poor Test History
Of all the causes of test anxiety, poor testing history has been the most common among my students and people I know. Without getting into the quagmire of opining on our education system’s obsession with standardized tests, suffice it to say that students now days are tested far more than when I was in school. And, the truth of the matter is now, just as it was back then, that there are some students who just don’t test well. After multiple experiences with failure on tests, many of these students develop a mental “block” about testing, which leads to anxiety, which leads to poor performance…and the vicious cycle is born.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

According to the ADAA, symptoms of test anxiety may include (but are not limited to):

  • Physical Symptoms–“Headache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and feeling faint can all occur. Test anxiety can lead to a panic attack, which is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort in which individuals may feel like they are unable to breathe or having a heart attack.”
  • Emotional Symptoms–“Feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment are common emotional responses to test anxiety.”
  • Behavioral/Cognitive Symptoms–“Difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself to others are common symptoms of test anxiety.”

These symptoms are, of course, not all present in every student; and some students may experience symptoms which are entirely different.

To read the ADAA’s entire page on Test Anxiety, click here.

5 Strategies for Avoiding Test Anxiety

  1. Be prepared. The biggest mistake I see my students make when it comes to taking tests is that they don’t adequately prepare. When they do assignments leading up to the test, they simply complete the assignment and then move on. They don’t study what they learned from the assignment while they’re doing it, or when it is returned to them after being graded. Students often wait until a day or two ahead of time, or even the night before a test and “cram” for it. According to researchers at UCLA, cramming for tests, and the “trade off” with lack of sleep, is one of the least effective ways to study for tests. They say that the best method for test preparation is “maintain[ing] a regular study schedule” (UCLA Newsroom, 2012).
  2. Use good test taking strategies. This really isn’t rocket science. In fact, you’ve likely heard this since your very first days in school. When taking a test, you should do all of the following:
    • Read the directions. Too many students don’t bother to read the directions and miss questions because they didn’t.
    • If you don’t know it, skip it and come back. As a general rule, I allow myself about one minute to read and think about a test question (depending on the number of questions and how much time I have to take the test). If I’m not sure of the answer by then, I flag it–mark it to come back to later–and move on. Then, if time allows, I return to the question and give myself a little more time. If I still don’t know it…..I MAKE AN EDUCATED GUESS! Never leave a question blank. If you do, you have a 100% chance of missing it.
    • Keep your focus on the test. It’s important that, while you’re working on the test, you stay focused on the test…on your test. Don’t get hung up on what other students are doing or on which students have already finished. Your job is your test. Just focus.
  3. Keep yourself healthy. I wrote in one of my other posts how important it is to be physically healthy in order to maintain good mental health. Fighting test anxiety is no different. Before your test be sure that you’ve a) had enough sleep the night before–don’t stay up cramming, and b) you have a good, nutritious meal. Yes, your grandmother was right! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Be sure that you eat it, even if you think you’re too nervous to eat! That goes for other meals during the day if your test isn’t in the morning.
  4. RELAX!! Part of the reason that many of my students who consistently performed poorly on tests did so is because they couldn’t relax. They got themselves so worked up over the test that they almost certainly doomed themselves. It is important to be as relaxed as possible. Some nerves are ok…they mean that you care. But, getting so nervous that you lose focus is not good at all. Before the test, if possible, find a quiet place. Close your eyes. Try not to think about the test. Take some long, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing at least 2 seconds for each. If you don’t have a quiet place to do that before the test, just sit at your desk, be quiet in yourself, close your eyes, and breathe. Then, while you’re taking the test….keep breathing!
  5. Stay positive. There really is no substitute fora positive attitude. If you walk into a test believing you’re going to fail, you probably will. But, if you walk in telling yourself that you know the material, you’re prepared, you’re going to focus and try your hardest, then you dramatically increase your chances at success.

And now, your +1

Examine  and evaluate expectations. One of the traps that people with anxiety disorders often fall into is the trap of unrealistic expectations. From time to time, we must take time out to examine and evaluate not only our expectations of ourselves, but also the expectations that other people have for us.

When examining and evaluating expectations ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Is this an expectation I have of myself, or is this someone else’s expectation of/for me?
  2. Is this expectation realistic or achievable?

It’s OK to say “No.” No is a sentence all by itself. If the expectations that you are laboring under are either a) someone else’s for you, b) unrealistic/unachievable, or c) both, them dump them! Just say no! Reevaluate and regroup. It’s OK to change your expectations and to change your mind!

Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

Changing your mindset, your habits, and your focus can and will help curb test anxiety. However, if your anxiety has reached the point where it is impacting your ability to function and succeed in your education or job, it is very important that you seek help.

As with any other type of anxiety, there are professionals available who can help you overcome this severe anxiety. Don’t ignore warning signs! They are the same as with other forms of anxiety: chronic sadness, thoughts of suicide, feeling hopeless about your life, separating yourself from the outside world, diminishing physical health. These are all signs that your anxiety has reached a level where professional help is necessary. Seek it out. There is hope!

I hope that something I’ve written here will help you overcome anxieties about taking tests. I know this is a big problem for many students, but I also know that it can be overcome.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or encouraging words, please leave them below in the comments section.

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!

 

 

Changes — They Are a-Comin’!

Change is good, right?!

I started this blog almost 10 years ago when I was in the midst of one of the worst periods of anxiety and depression that I’d ever experienced. In the beginning, the blog was a way for me to get my thoughts out of my head and on to “paper” — well, virtual/electronic paper, anyway.

Before long, people started reading my thoughts…people I didn’t even know! They started reading and then they started commenting and sending me emails thanking me. These people I didn’t know, people who also struggled with anxiety and depression, were writing back thanking me for being honest and transparent.

It helped them realize they weren’t alone.

So, my mission became even more important. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. I wanted to be their champion–a fellow struggler who was doing his best to get better.

Somewhere along the way, I got lost. My blog morphed into an unrecognizable mish-mash of posts with no consistent topic and no clear focus.

It’s time to change that!

wooden blocks with letters spelling the word change

Change is good, right?!

Over the last several months, I’ve come to realize that I am in a unique position to help people. I’m not a physician or a licensed counselor. But, I know about anxiety and depression. I know how harmful and destructive they can be. I can speak openly and honestly to people who are struggling like me. And maybe, just maybe…I can help.

 

In the next couple of weeks, you’re going to see a lot of change here–a whole lot of change.

I’m getting back to my roots. I’m getting back to the whole reason I started the blog in the first place. I’m going to write about anxiety, depression, my struggles, my triumphs, my failures…I’m writing about it all.

What does that mean for you?

Well, hopefully you’ll stick around and keep reading!

While my focus will be to help people with anxiety and depression find their voice and find an advocate, I think that the content I post here can and will be helpful to anyone who reads.

You can still read some of my “old” stuff.

I will be archiving my old posts that don’t really fit into the new blog mold, and don’t fit with the focus of the blog. I’ll create an archive page and you can go there and find sort of a Best of the Redneck Sophisticate. Poems, short stories, random thoughts and musings. They’ll be there for you.

Who knows? Someday I might start another blog where I just write whatever comes into little brain. But, that’s down the road.

For now, I need to get focused so that I can accomplish the things I want to accomplish to help other people. I hope you’ll stick with me because….I don’t know what I’d do without you!

Have any thoughts, questions, comments begging me not to change…or, hey, even some encouragement? Please use the comments section below!

Much love! Jason 🙂

 

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 7: Sometimes We Fail

Sometimes, we fail.

When I started this series over a year ago, I made a commitment to total transparency. Share everything (that is appropriate to share), hide nothing. Because only when we are totally honest with ourselves, with the people who love and care for us, and with the people who are helping us, can we totally heal. This post honors that commitment.

It’s been a long, difficult four days.

As most of you who regularly read this blog or follow me on social media know, I was to have started new hire orientation at a new school district on Monday. I was excited. It was going to be a huge step forward for me both financially and professionally. You’ve probably notice by now that I’m writing in the past tense…

I thought I was ready. I thought I could power through my anxiety and make it work. I was wrong.

By Sunday night, I was a complete nervous wreck. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I tossed and turned, and was up and down all night long. I finally drifted off into a fitful sleep around 4 a.m. My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I got up and got myself ready. By the time I needed to leave, I was in a full-blown panic attack, and I couldn’t get it to stop. But, I got in the car and headed out anyway–thinking, hoping, praying that I would settle down and be able to do it. I couldn’t.

I won’t belabor this story. The long and short of it is that I walked away from what likely would’ve been the best job I’ve ever had–certainly the best teaching job I’ve ever had. My anxiety. My panic. It won this time. So, this week, I found myself back at square one.

What does this mean for me? Where do I go from here?

The short answer is, I’m not sure.

The school district has the option and the right to place a sanction on my teaching certificate, and it could be suspended for a year. My hope is that with a note from my doctor and counselor, they will elect not to sanction me. But, if they do, then I will understand and accept that decision.

I don’t know what the future holds for me with regards to teaching. For now, I have to focus on the present. I have to focus on getting better. I have to focus on healing.

I’m still going to start work on my PhD in a few weeks. And, I’ll have to find a job working from home for the time being. I do have some longer term plans which I will share with you later. But, for now, what matters is the present moment and getting better.

I know some of you will be disappointed. Some of you may even be angry or feel betrayed in some way. Believe me, I understand that, too. I’m alternating back and forth between considering myself a total failure who shouldn’t be trusted and considering myself smart for recognizing a potential disaster (entering a classroom in a state of panic is not good) and doing what I could to avert that disaster, even if it meant damaging my immediate situation.

I only ask one thing of you: don’t give up on me. I’m in the fight of my life and I need people around me who love me, care for me, and support me, even if they don’t understand me. I’m human. I’m flawed. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I fail.

Sometimes we all do.

More later.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6

Getting All Third-Persony About It

Sorry for the delay in posts the last week or so. I’ve been a little busy trying to start my life all over again, ‘n’ stuff.

(A quick note to new readers: anytime you see words underlined or in a different color, you can click on them to read something related to the current post. Okay, carry on..)

There’s a part of me that is really glad things happened the way they did, you know? The whole situation forced me to take a genuine look at the guy I see in the mirror every morning (that would be me in case you were wondering) and decide if I care enough aboutthird person him to fix things, or if I should just let him keep treading water.

I decided to help him out…

Is it weird that I just spent half a paragraph referring to myself in the third person? Not as weird as you might think. Many times, when I’m in the midst of a panic attack, or just a particularly anxious moment, I get the feeling that I’m outside of my body observing what is going on, but completely unable to control it. I’ve been assured by many people, some of them trained professionals, that this is not at all abnormal for people who suffer with anxiety and depression.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in third person recently.

The-more-you-knowInteresting factoid: referring to oneself in the third person is called ILLEISM. 🙂 See, this blog is not only entertaining, but educational. 

If I’m being totally honest and transparent (everybody’s using that word lately, so I thought I should, too) then I must say that, while my life has not been direction-less, it has certainly been leaning toward the chaotic side of the universe. I mean, I’m sort of a jack of all trades and master of several, but not all in a way. In my brain that translates to I kinda don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And, THAT….causes a lot of problems.

What I really, Really, REALLY want to be is a writer. The problem with that is that I also really, REALLY like to eat and drive and have electricity in my apartment. So, until someone recognizes my genius, I’ll need another job. But then my wanderlust kicks in and I get bored and frustrated; and then my anxiety kicks in and I get scared and terrified, and here I am–staring at myself in the mirror and getting all third-persony about it.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you just wanted to scream, WHAT THE HELL??!!

This is one of those moments for me. It’s a moment that never seems to pass by no matter how many minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks pass. It’s a moment when everything I touch seems to turn to crap no matter how hard I try for gold. It’s a moment when I have to keep telling myself that crap is GREAT fertilizer and so I keep throwing seeds down on top of the crap trusting that something beautiful will come out of it.

Okay, I’m not crazy about where that metaphor was going, so I’m gonna cut it off before it gets too weird!

Seriously, though, have you ever had one of those moments? Are you having one now? Do you have a magic trick that makes those moments go by faster?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then take a couple of minutes to post a comment and tell me about it. I’d love to hear about your third-persony moments. Who knows, maybe we share something in common? But, even if you decide not to comment, would you do me a favor? Would you please take a second to LIKE and SHARE this post in case someone you know might be staring at him/herself in the mirror? I surely would appreciate it!