The period leading up to a test is often so loaded with a lot of stress and anxiety because of the high pressure that characterizes it. This anxiety can present itself in several physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms such as sweaty palms, mind going blank during the test, pit of fear in the stomach, nausea, fast heartbeat, racing thoughts and feeling helpless.

The normal nervousness that surrounds an exam is relatively a good thing as it heightens your senses and brings out your best. It is actually a sign that you care about your performance. Although 96% of students admit to having experienced test anxiety at least once, students with higher levels perform significantly worse than those with milder symptoms.

Student laden with test anxiety

Most of us face this exam tension because of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of the stakes. This tension could be induced by your expectations from yourself or from others, or even peer pressure. Because of this, your exam conditions are laced with so much worry, dread or even a sense of impending doom.

So how can you better handle test anxiety and consequently improve your performance over time?

1. Identify your fears and write them down: So just before your test, pull out a piece of paper and write everything you’re scared of as this will unload your anxieties, ease your fears and free up brainpower to focus on the task before you.

Students writing out fears before an exam

Also, on the days leading up to the exam, you can assess your fears. If it is something you can control, then you can begin to tackle them such as figuring out your gaps and reading the extra information.

However, if it is something you have no control over, you can decide to recognise it as a distraction, work to maintain a calm outlook and face your test head-on with a clear plan to focus.

2. Set realistic goals and prepare accordingly: This does not necessarily mean lowering your standards or expectations; the aim is to feel confident. This implies fixing a range of scores that you will work towards and will attain.

Set realistic goals and work towards them

Then work diligently throughout the semester while applying proper discipline and planning techniques. In the weeks leading up to the test or exam, create a personal study schedule that is feasible.

This is now where you revise: go through your study material and see what areas can damp your confidence. Then aim at solidifying these areas before the exam by blocking out time on your schedule to tackle every one of them.

3. Use good test-taking skills: During the exam, it is important to keep track of time, go at a comfortable pace, answer the easier questions first, recheck answers and ask for help when necessary. Also try to focus and not be distracted by what is going on around you.

Student focusing during a test

Try to arrive as early as possible on the exam date in order to avoid unnecessary tension and to allow yourself a few deep breaths. This will help you stay calm as you familiarise yourself with the exam environment.

Before the exam, ask your teacher for the exam details. Even if they don’t tell you up front, your professor may actually be willing to let you in on important information (such as the length and format) that could aid your preparation.

4. Recreate test conditions: Once you understand the time constraints and even types of questions to expect on the actual test, you can look for old test banks and past questions to practise with.

Student taking a sample test

In this, regular self-assessment is key. Use active learning to intentionally pull out information from your brain by quizzing yourself. Then incorporate spaced repetition strategies by testing yourself over intervals to keep your brain active.

You can also use flowcharts and mnemonics to organise the information as you study. Take concentration tests such as focusing on one instrument as you listen to a song or crossing out a particular letter as you go through a passage.

5. Eat well, rest well and relax: You should try to avoid sugar and caffeine as the test day approaches. Take a carbohydrate-rich meal close to the exam to supply glucose you need for brain power.

Girl listening to calm music to beat test anxiety

Sleep is said to be directly proportional to academic performance, so you don’t want to pull an all-nighter before your exam. Resting properly throughout this period will prepare your brain for the challenge ahead.

Furthermore, you should practise mindfulness of work; meditation and positive self-talk as you relax. Also, try to keep moving and perform some level of aerobic exercise.

You must realise that one test won’t ruin you and it is only an examination of the knowledge you’ve acquired for a period of time. It is then you can use the pressure that comes with it to your advantage and generate confidence to ace your test.

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2 Responses

  1. Yinka says:

    Oh, wow. Thank you so much for this.
    I’m actually writing a test soon and I’ll definitely be using these advice.

  2. Banjo says:

    Quite informative!

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