Last Updated: Jan 8, 2019
Beads of perspiration start rolling down my neck, my hands become oddly clammy, my stomach feels light, and I begin murmuring the few Hindu prayers I know by heart. Despite having only a few months of school left before I graduate, I’ve never been able to keep test-taking anxiety at bay. I struggled with this internal conundrum during the SAT and my final exams.
Sometimes, the stress can be an uncomfortable knot in the pit of your stomach during the exam. For high school seniors, semester exams often contribute to a large portion of your marks and are vital components of your college admission, so it’s perfectly reasonable to feel this way.
Words of encouragement may not always be an effective way to pacify someone who has test-taking anxiety. But here are a few steps you can take toward combatting it.
1. Make your environment comfortable
Once you acclimate to the atmosphere, you want to steadily adjust to the situation. You have to learn how to get to this stage in your own way. Try to sit in the most comfortable, well-lit spot in the room if you’re allowed to choose your place for the test. Have a bottle of water or your favorite energy drink handy so you can take swigs between questions to clear your mind.
It also helps if you can picture your environment differently for a little while. You can imagine that you’re sitting at your desk at home writing the same paper and thinking the same thoughts. Visualizing this comfort zone can ease your nerves during the exam so you can finish without constantly worrying about the questions.
2. Get all your essentials
Be well-prepared with all the stationary and any other items you need for the exam. For example, always have a back-up calculator, extra pens, pencils, and geometrical instruments in the event of a malfunction. This can help diffuse the tension while you’re answering questions, as it can be emotionally settling to know that you’re amply prepared.
3. Keep to yourself
Before every exam, my class is in an uproar. People get tense, impatient, and begin aggravating one another. The class is just a buzz of shouting, arguing, sometimes, even tears.
Sometime last year, I decided to keep myself out of everything for my stress levels and sanity. The tense atmosphere and negative energy used to impact my emotional and mental faculties before an exam. Now I just keep to myself before an exam so I can think and review. I also feel this is a good time to reflect on my preparation. This helps filter out the white noise of what everyone is saying around me, and during the exam, things I heard don’t derail my train of thought, sending me into a state of panic.
Having that “alone time” will help you perform to the best of your ability as you don’t let any external influences affect you. I follow the same habit between the essays and during the breaks between subjects for SATs.
Related: Standardized Test-Taking Tips
4. Think positive thoughts
This doesn’t necessarily translate to believing all those proverbial exam quotes we often desperately look to for comfort, even if they don’t help. It’s more about altering your perception to test-taking. Don’t see the test as a giant hurdle that could hinder you, focus on doing your best and not worrying about the outcome.
Stay positive about what you’ve written even if the question is a bit confusing. For example, if you’re taking a math exam, remember to show all your working correctly and write out all the steps so you’re able to maximize your score. Putting down all your thoughts on the exam paper can help gain a lot of clarity. Even if you’re unable to get the answer, just knowing that you have something substantial can give you the confidence to proceed to the next question. After completing the test, you should try not to think about it too much and work toward your next goal.
Test-taking comes with its own stress. Changing your approach can ease your disposition toward it and improve your performance in the future. Even in your senior year, you have many chances to prove yourself and excel—there’s still time to crumble that mental wall you built for yourself.
What do you do to alleviate test-taking anxiety? Tell us @CollegeXpress!