Monday, November 14, 2011

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety has been studied in a formal manner since the 1950s.  According to Kids' Health, text anxiety is a performance anxiety...a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure is on to do well (D'Arcy Lyness, 2010).  Test anxiety can manifest itself in a number of symptoms, including butterflies in your stomach, headaches, nausea, physical shaking, and even such a high level of fear that you can't get your stress under control and feel like you are going to pass out.  Performance anxiety does not just impact those students who are taking a formal exam.  Since test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, other situations that can cause performance anxiety include trying out for the play, pitching in a big baseball game, trying out for the honor choir, singing the national anthem at the football game, or even going into an important interview.  In all of these situations, performance expectations are high.  Not every situation will cause the same reaction in any two people. 

Anxiety is caused by a reaction to something stressful.  Some students get stressed out when they know they are up against a time limit on a test or speech.  Some stress can come from focusing what a person does not know rather than what a person does know for an upcoming test.  Once a stressful situation has been identified, you body releases adrenaline which is responsible for your body's "fight or flight" response.  This is the response in your body that prepares you for danger.  This adrenaline is also what causes your physical reactions (noted above).

Test anxiety (performance anxiety) is normal at some time for everyone.  The trick is recognizing the anxiety and having a plan to work through it.  The person who cannot work through the situation causing the anxiety is bound to continue to experience the levels of stress repeatedly.  Try to use your stress to your advantage.  According to the same article in Kids' Health, stress can be used to warn you of upcomimg important events, like a test or an important assignment.  Use this stress to keep you on task in the completion of or preparation for such an event.  Believe it or not, advance preparation can help reduce stress.  It increass your confidence which can reduce your stress.  Also, some anxiety can help promote better study habits.  People who cram for tests have a much higher level of anxiety than those who have prepared in steps or increments.  Filling your mind with information at a steady pace rather than stuffing it full all at one time is definitely a way to reduce stress and anxiety.  Thinking positive thoughts is also productive in reducing anxiety.  Rather than sending yourself negative thoughts, such as "I never do well on essay and that is a large part of this test" try being positive by stating things, such as "I know this material because I've studied" or "I will take my time and do the best I can."  Another way to help reduce anxiety is to take care of yourself.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat something light and healthy before a test.  Write down the outcome you want and expect and visualize that outcome.  This is a practice that many great athletes do.  It works.  See yourself doing well on a test (or in a performance situation) and accomplishing the desired outcome. 

Anxiety affects everyone in some way or another.  Many famous people have admitted to being scared to death to go out on stage to perform.  The key is to working to determine what causes the stress and then putting steps into place to help reduce it. 

Lyness, D'Arcy, PhD.  Kids' Health, July, 2010

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