There are 4 kinds of test anxiety:
So, what to do about each of these different types of test anxiety.
Wayyyyy before: Anxiety has the potential to motivate good preparation, so use it that way. Good preparation can mitigate much of the irrational before-the-test anxiety you usually face. Good preparation consists of learning deeply. Learning deeply should make you able to answer these questions about what you’ve learned:
It also helps to have your study and preparation look similar. If the test is closed book, practice p-sets without your notes. If the test is essay-writing, practice writing.
NOTE: It turns out testing is a great way to learn. When separated from its evaluative purpose, it’s actually more helpful to test yourself intermittently than to just study or go over problem sets. Part of this constitutes a sort of rehearsal, but at its core testing is a strenuous mental activity that helps solidify the information you’re learning. It also helps you screen through what you know well, what you know a little, and what you don’t know at all yet. (For more information about test preparation, read this.)
Stress can be attenuated in two waves: Before and During. Ideally, if Before is working well, During will go even better. But, as a fail-safe, I’ll talk about some strategies to help ease stress During the test as well as Before.
When you’re preparing, select a problem or question that gets you thinking the way you’re going to need to be thinking during the exam. This can be your warm-up question. About 20-30 minutes before the exam, pull out that question and answer it. It shouldn’t be super challenging, or something that you don’t feel confident about. Then, when you sit for the exam, all the parts of your brain that need to be lit up are already lit up!
A certain amount of anxiety is necessary for testing. It keeps you vigilant and focused. Too much distracts you and makes you move so fast you miss tiny but significant details like “but” or “and” while writing or carrying the 1. So getting the right amount of anxiety means formally telling your body that a test is not a life or death situation, and all of that adrenaline you’ve got coursing through your veins, producing your elevated heart rate, generating enough heat that your palms are sweating, and mixing with your stomach acid to produce what feels like lead butterflies is actually natural, okay, and if managed properly, can help you. First, breeeeeeeathe. Slowly in, and slowly out. This will get more oxygen to your brain where it is needed (since you are not in fact running for your life), will slow your heart rate, and will help you dissipate some of your adrenaline.
This type of prep can take a long long time to master, so don’t be discouraged if just reading this doesn’t immediately transform you. Change and growth take time. Here are some things to try and to aim for.
As usual, stay calm, and stay tuned.