How you can beat test anxiety


By David Joel Miller

Do you suffer from test anxiety?

Pain, Anxiety, Depression, Stress

Test Anxiety?
Photo courtesy of Flickr (marsmet481)

Test anxiety is not just a problem for children in school. Want to drive, you need to take a test. Many jobs require tests. Even after you graduate from school many professions require licensing exams or test to renew your license. Job interviews are another form of test, an oral one.

Dating is also a sort of test and some of you have only been able to do this with some alcohol to help you overcome that type of test anxiety. Sales also involve tests, does the client want what you are selling? Do you take it personally if you “fail to make the sale?” If you can’t stand being turned down you will never make it in sales.

Test anxiety is far more common that most of us recognize.

So today and in upcoming posts, we will look at test anxiety, how it affects us and how to overcome it.

It is not the people who know the least that get test anxiety, nor is it those who are at the most risk of failure. Often the people who have the highest test anxiety are actually the best students but they consistently make three so-called thinking errors that interfere with their ability to put down on paper or another medium the full extent of what they know.

Don’t make the three key mistakes of people with high test anxiety. Test anxiety, technically called evaluation anxiety, is maintained by three concurrent thinking errors.

Don’t underrate your abilities.

People with high test anxiety consistently underrate their abilities compared to those who do not have test anxiety. You need to believe in yourself.

Learn to give yourself credit for what you know rather than focus on what you might get wrong. If you suffer from “low self-esteem,” work on being able to see the best in yourself.

Don’t overrate the consequences of doing poorly on the test.

One low score will not flunk you out of college. Cumulatively the consequences of a lot of test anxiety will lower your grades. Even then, slightly lower grades will not keep you from graduating if you do all the other work.

Remember in a hundred years no one, not even you, will know or care about what grades you got.

Honest, grades are not all that important. What does matter is have you really learned the material? People who cram for tests will have forgotten most of what they learned in a week or two. If you really care about the subject you are studying them you will learn this material at a deep level.

Think grades or GPA matter all that much. Unless you are trying to get into a very exclusive school or are taking a once in a lifetime type test most times you score today is not all that big a deal.

Quick, what was your doctors GPA? What kind of grades did your lawyer get in school? Every day we trust our lives and liberties to people and have no idea what grade they received in school.

What we do care about is do they know their stuff. Can they get the job done?

Do not engage in negative self-talk that uses up working memory and creates the poor performance you feared.

Repeatedly telling yourself you are going to fail a test, nearly guarantees that you will. Your brain will try to help you out and make your predictions come true. (See the post on the Nocebo Effect in which you can quite literally think yourself sick.)

Good coaches do not solely focus on the athlete’s mistakes. They also give their players encouragement and recognition for things well done.

Be your own coach and encourage yourself. Tell yourself that you are going to do your best and you will.

Do not put off studying to the last minute.

Learn to study well ahead of time. Putting off your study session and then studying under pressure makes it harder for your brain to store that new information. Study early and often.

Even if time is limited, short periods of study each day are better than last-minute marathon study sessions.

When you really don’t know the answers your test anxiety will increase. If you are well prepared and well rested your chances of doing well improve.

Watch for a future post on “How you can get A’s.” Tips I have learned from my many years in school and my time as a faculty member.

If all the basic tips for reducing test anxiety do not help, consider getting professional help. A good counselor or therapist can work with you on reducing this and many other anxieties.

Chances are that if you suffer from test anxiety there are lots of other anxieties that are keeping you from having the happy life you deserve.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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6 thoughts on “How you can beat test anxiety

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