You know the material. You’ve studied, organized your notes, participated in the discussions and gotten all of your assignments in on time. But if you suffer from test anxiety, all that goes out the window when you tackle exams.
“They freeze; they don’t have the answers; they do very badly on the test,” said Dr. Richard Driscoll, a psychologist in Knoxville, Tenn. “Generally they know more about the subject matter than shows up on the test.”
Driscoll says he’s had clients who actually tutor classmates to success only to bomb on their own exams. That’s partly because test anxiety affects people both mentally and physically, he said.
“There’s a cognitive dread, a sense that ‘I’m going to fail the test,’ ” he said. “There’s a physiological aspect — upset stomach, can’t sleep. Then there’s also an impairment consequence in there somewhere. The impairment is the students do not do as well as they might.”
Highly test anxious students score about a half letter grade below lower anxiety classmates, he said. But overcoming test anxiety is not as simple as just deciding to relax, he said.
“If you’re highly anxious and you try to relax, you’ll fail and you’ll feel like you failed at one more thing,” Driscoll said.
Also, if you’re too relaxed, you’re not going to do very well either, he said.
“Good test-takers are pumped, they’re challenged, they’re intrigued, they’re fascinated —they’re not brain-dead,” he said. “You’re not looking for a sense of being relaxed, you’re looking for a sense of being challenged or intrigued by the material.”
Driscoll recommends the following exercise to help you get in the right frame of mind for an exam. Stretch your arms above your head, stretch out your legs, then take a deep breath in and tense up your entire body as tightly as you can. Then close your eyes, let the air go and feel all of your muscles relax. As you relax, give yourself a positive suggestion to relax and feel every part of your body responding to that suggestion. That should help you dissipate some of your anxiety and physical tension, he said.
“The anxiety prepares you for fight or flight or playing soccer,” Driscoll said. “If you’re sitting on your bottom doing nothing, you’re going to feel very uncomfortable. But if you’re out running, stretching or using up physiological aspects, you’ll feel much better.”
Some experts suggest hypnosis as a cure for test anxiety.
Dr. Roberta Temesis a New Jersey-based medical hypnotist and psychologist who wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hypnosis.”She said one session with a reputable hypnotist can cure test anxiety for most people.
“Hypnosis is a state of intense suggestibility where one person using words can influence another person to accomplish their goal,” she said. “If their goal is to study hard or remember all the information they learn, if they’re in that suggestible state we call ‘hypnosis’ or ‘trance,’ then that will work.”
Students still have to learn the material, but hypnosis can enable them to retain and recall that information easily for the test, Temes said.
“You’ll fall asleep easily the night before and get a good night’s sleep,” she said of the effects of a hypnosis session. “When you’ve awakened, you’ll remember everything you’ve learned. You’ll be self-confident, but calm and organized. You’ll actually be eager for the test. You’ll have an excellent memory, and the correct answers will make themselves easily known to you.”
She encourages clients to tape-record sessions so they can reinforce the positive suggestions later if they feel like they need it.
Hypnosis CDs also can be purchased at HypnosisNetwork.com, a site Temes recommends.
If you’re having trouble focusing on your test because your mind wanders, Temes recommends slipping a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you get distracted, snap the rubber band to help refocus your mind on the task at hand.
You also can try tapping, a form of acupressure. For test anxiety, Temes said you can tap your collar bones with your fingertips as you repeat a sentence to relieve your stress, something along the lines of “Even though I’m frightened about the test, I will remain calm, do my best and accept myself for whatever I do.”
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