So, you find yourself prepared to take a test and just at the start of the exam, you draw a complete blank. Your heart begins to race, and you cannot think straight. All you feel is panic as you feel the pressure to succeed. You may even have the thought “if I don’t pass this test, I am a total failure!”
1. Calm your Mind
Did you know that we feel whatever it is that we believe? It is well known that anxious thoughts create an anxious body. Furthermore, when we perceive a situation to be harmful or threatening in any sense, we activate our fight or flight response and our body reacts.
When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol is released, our digestion slows, and our arteries become restricted. All this is happening to prepare our body to survive danger. This has been built within us as a form of self-preservation.
Unfortunately, this survival tool works against us when we perceive various situations and circumstances to be life threatening when they are actually harmless. That is why focusing on our thoughts should always be the priority.
Ultimately renewing our minds is the key. Therefore, mental focus techniques, and meditation and prayer are great things to put into practice.
2. Calm your Body
Since we know that a healthy body influences a healthy mind, we should give attention to the types of food and drink that we are putting in our bodies. There are many things that support a healthy body including limiting toxic chemicals as well as balancing nutrition.
Nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins can create an anxious mind and body. Furthermore, during an exam, it is essential for our mind to process thought rationally which requires that our body be restored with adequate rest.
Anxiety and stress rob our bodies of nutrients. For example, calming minerals like magnesium, calcium and zinc are heavily depleted when we experience a high level of emotional stress. Therefore, making sure that we have adequate levels of the necessary nutrients to perform optimally is vital.
There are certain “brain foods” that support a healthy mind. For example, I have heard the saying “an avocado a day, keeps the psychologist away.” Probably an indication that our brains require healthy fats. We have all heard similar sayings about apples or other natural foods. The point here is that we should try our best to avoid unnatural and processed foods. There is a reason that we have heard this message for years; food matters!
3. Know your Stuff
Next, it’s important to build confidence before taking an exam. One of the best ways to increase our confidence is to know the material well. If we believe that we can be successful at test taking without preparation, then we are setting ourselves up for failure.
This seems like common sense but, as an educator, I have witnessed many students that simply did not take the time to study. The work ethic must be there first.
We must study and have a good understanding of the subject or it will not matter how calm we are during an exam. A person either knows the material being tested or they do not. There is no exception unless of course a person is an extremely lucky guesser.
4. Enhance your Short-Term Memory
Much of the material that we retain for an exam is lost over time due to the limitations of our short-term memory. Real learning takes place over time through repetition and experience.
When preparing for an exam, it is of great benefit to boost our short-term memory potential. Since we learn through association, there are a few simple things that we can do to enhance our memory for test taking.
For example, research has shown that studying in those environments similar to the test taking environment can help us retain knowledge. Additionally, it is beneficial to study right before going to bed at night. Some people even believe that if they chew gum during study, they will perform better if they chew gum during an exam.
This again is primarily because we learn by association and connection. The study of Pavlov’s dog in psychology proves this type of learning when the dog learned to associate the bell with the food.
5. Slow Down and Breathe
This may seem like a no brainer but during an exam we must remind ourselves to slow down, read the directions carefully and breathe slowly.
It is surprising how many students miss the right answer simply because of their failure to read the word “not.” It is always to our benefit to read directions at least twice so as not to miss anything. Additionally, I have witnessed many students who have failed to recheck their calculators and provide an answer to a math problem in error. These are simple mistakes that would not occur if test takers simply slowed down enough to validate a question or an answer.
Finally, why would we have to be reminded to breathe when it’s an automatic response? It is because a slower rate of breathing helps to control our bodies response.
We can learn to control our anxiety level through our breath. This is something that is often taught to people who are having their blood pressure regularly checked. Just worrying about a high blood pressure reading can quickly cause blood pressure to increase. When anxiety increases, our heart rate and blood pressure increase as well. This leads to shallow short breathing. By simply taking slow deep breaths, we can help to calm our sympathetic nervous system.
As you can see, there are several things that we can do to help alleviate test anxiety. Since everyone is unique, a person needs to find out what specifically works for them.
With testing at the forefront in much of today’s education, it is vital that we address the issue of anxiety as it relates to test performance. I would even go so far as to predict that one day, colleges will offer courses merely for the purpose of dealing with test anxiety.