Does the mere mention of the word “test” cause you to get sick to your stomach? Do you not do as well as you’d like even though you’ve studied the material? Does your worry that others might judge you based on your test scores cause your mind to go blank? Then you may be suffering from test anxiety. It occurs when intense negative thoughts and feelings about your performance interfere with you doing your best.
Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to help. The most basic ones involve making sure to take care of your mind and body. We perform best when we have a good night’s sleep, eat healthy and generally feel well. If you disagree with this, think back to the last time you stayed up all night eating junk food…how prepared did you feel to take on the world the next day?
With you body in a good place, you can focus on taking care of your mind. In my experience, most people don’t do poorly on an exam because they are stupid or don’t study enough. (In fact, some of the smartest people I know have struggled with poor grades.) What appears to be the biggest factor is that they tend to “psych themselves out.” In other words, they start believe that they can’t do well on the test and then act accordingly. The following example illustrates what can happen: you have a math final . Even though you did well all semester you tell yourself “I never do well on finals…if I don’t do well on this test, I might fail this class. If I fail this class, I might fail all my classes and then, I won’t get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college my whole life will be ruined.” Somehow you convince yourself that your whole future depends on this one test. You become so nervous you can’t focus on the test and end up with a poor grade.
One helpful strategy is to to keep things in perspective. For example, you could tell yourself “Even though I haven’t done well on finals in the past, I feel really prepared for this one and know I can get a good grade. Even if I don’t do as well I’d like to, a poor grade will not ruin my entire life.” Another technique is to challenge negative thinking. The next time you feel bad about your abilities, list all the evidence you have against your negative thought. For example, if you think “I’m stupid”, list all the evidence that you are not. Your list might look like this: I got an A on my paper, my friends tend to ask for my advice, my teacher thought my presentation was great, etc.” You might also try positive affirmations which involve repeating positive statements to yourself in order to increase your confidence. Statements like “I am successful” or “I know this material” can help you to stay calm and focused. For more strategies, please feel free to call me to set up a session where we can come up with an individualized plan for you.