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How to help relieve test-anxiety in others

How to help relieve test-anxiety in others


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I teach, as a layman, young adult students who mostly try to get a degree part-time whilst juggling full-time jobs and small crumbs of left-overs of a private life.

As it is hard for them to do rock-solid preparation, there is often a serious amount of test-anxiety close to the exams and up to the point where they forget something they definitely had down before. I want to educate myself on techniques to relieve test-anxiety in others as a teacher. Google gives innumerable hits for relieving that form of stress yourself, but not from the educator's viewpoint. Any help would be appreciated.


Being a layman, you can only give advice to the students. When their test anxiety is serious, the best advice you can give them is - seek professional help.

There are, as you say, numerous ways to relieve 'normal' anxiety. A good web source is WebMD, that gives the following tips, which may aid your students too:

  • Learn your students to study efficiently; your institution may offer dedicated study-skill courses to the students;
  • You can learn them test-taking strategies;
  • Students feel more relaxed if they study systematically and practice the material that will be on a test. Establish a consistent pretest routine. That way they'll learn what works best for them, which eases stress levels;
  • Teach them relaxation techniques. There are a multitude of them, applicable to either right before the test, or during the test to help them stay calm, e.g., breathing techniques, muscle relaxing strategies, closing the eyes and imagining a positive outcome, or meditation techniques;
  • Remind them to eat and drink. Their brain needs fuel to function. They should eat a meal before the test and drink plenty of water. However, sugary drinks such as soda pops can cause the blood sugar to peak and then steeply drop. Also, caffeine may not be wise as it can increase anxiety;
  • Let them exercise. Regular aerobic exercise, and exercising on exam day, can release tension;
  • Urge them to get plenty of sleep. Sleep is directly related to academic performance. Preteens and teenagers especially need to get regular, solid sleep;
  • Make sure your students can openly discuss anxiety issues with you;
  • A student may have a learning disability that requires professional help. Test anxiety may improve by addressing the underlying condition that interferes with the ability to learn, focus or concentrate - for example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. If a student has been diagnosed with a learning disability you can provide them with assistance with test taking, such as extra time to complete a test or having questions read aloud;
  • And again - urge them to seek professional help, if necessary. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) with a psychologist or other mental health provider can help them to work through their feelings, thoughts and behaviors that may cause or worsen anxiety. You can ask around at your institution if it has a counseling service in-house, otherwise you can advise your students to seek professional help outside the school's setting.

Practical Skills

Treating test anxiety begins with teaching study tips and test-taking skills. Research shows that using these skills can help students stay relaxed, focused, and motivated to do well on a test (5).

Study Tips

Good study habits are important for students at all levels. Discuss these tips with your client and develop plans for integrating the tips into students’ current study habits.

  • Establish a study routine. Creating a routine–such as studying for an hour after dinner, or for a half hour each morning–will encourage consistency. When getting started, create a study schedule and set reminders on your phone to help build the habit.
  • Create a dedicated study area. Choose an area that is free of distractions where you can set up your study materials, and leave them between sessions. When it’s time to study, you won’t spend time searching for something you need. Just sit down, and you’re ready to go.
  • Focus on the quality of studying, not the quantity. It’s more effective to space out many short study sessions, rather than having one marathon session. Try studying in half-hour to hour-long blocks, with breaks in between. This way, you can stay alert and focused the whole time.
  • Make studying a priority. When it’s time to study, take it as seriously as you would take a job. Don’t skip study sessions, start on time, and give the task 100% of your attention.
  • Set specific study goals. Goals give direction to a study session and provide a sense of accomplishment when completed. Create goals that can realistically be completed in a single study session, such as: Learn the terms in chapter 1, pass the chapter 2 practice quiz, take notes on chapter 4, or review class notes for 30 minutes.
  • Don’t stop at reading–write down what you learn. By typing or hand-writing information, you will engage in active learning, which can improve retention and understanding. Try making flashcards, writing chapter summaries, or creating an outline of the material. As a bonus, you can refer back to what you’ve written to quickly review the material.
  • Quiz yourself to make information “stick”. Look for practice tests or discussion questions after each chapter you read. Another way to “quiz” yourself is to teach something you’ve studied to a friend, a pet, or even an inanimate object, without looking at the material.
  • A change of scenery can improve information retention. If you’re feeling unfocused, unmotivated, or just plain bored, try studying somewhere new. Libraries, parks and coffee shops are great alternatives for breaking out of your routine.
  • Take care of your mind and body. Healthy sleep habits, exercise, and a balanced diet will boost memory and brain function. Studying is most effective when it’s balanced with good habits.

Test Day

Come Prepared
Use Test-Taking Strategies

Prepare Well

franckreporter / Getty Images

Ensuring that you are well-prepared for a test can put your mind at ease and help get rid of the anxiety you may feel when test day arrives.

Cramming for a test or exam will only increase your anxiety.

Instead, follow this routine to give yourself the best chance at learning all the material well:

  • Ask friends who study regularly for advice.
  • Find a study skills tutor.
  • Join a study group.
  • Read books about study skills.

Finally, learn all you can about the test or exam in advance. Knowing the types of questions and whether they are multiple-choice or essay can help ensure that there will be no last-minute surprises.


Helping Students Beat Test Anxiety

Fear of failure can prevent students from showing what they know on big tests—but a 10-minute writing exercise can help.

A rapid heartbeat. Sweaty palms. Clouded thoughts. For many students, the biggest obstacle to passing a test isn’t what they know, but the anxiety they feel.

Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on a student’s ability to concentrate on tests, leading to poor performance and, ultimately, fewer opportunities to succeed in school. A new study highlights an effective solution: Guide students to view stress differently—as a boost instead of a burden. Simple 10-minute writing exercises given just before a test helped students see stress as “a beneficial and energizing force” that could help them.

The writing exercises were most effective for disadvantaged students, who may be sensitive to situations that emphasize rank and status—by-products of high-stakes testing. Their wealthier peers may have access to more resources like tutors that can boost their chances of success in school, and in comparison students from low-income families may feel more pressure to do well because they have “less margin for error,” which raises the stakes of failure.

Psychologists Christopher Rozek, Gerardo Ramirez, Rachel Fine, and Sian Beilock followed 1,175 high school biology students for a year to study how stress affected their ability to pass major exams. They noticed that low-income students were disproportionately harmed by difficulty regulating test anxiety. These students experienced “worried thoughts about the possibility of failure” that became a self-fulfilling prophecy: Being stressed about failing increased the likelihood of failure. But 10-minute writing exercises that encouraged students to let go of negative thoughts, regulate their emotions, and reinterpret stress as a positive force helped them perform better.

In the study, two types of writing were assigned immediately before end-of-semester exams were taken:

  • Expressive writing. Students were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about the exam they were about to take. They were also asked to write about other times in their lives when they had experienced worried thoughts.
  • Stress reappraisal. Students were asked to think about their symptoms of stress as helpful for test-taking. For example: “If you find yourself feeling nervous or anxious while taking a test, think about how your body's responses can actually energize and help you.” Students also read a passage that explained how psychological responses to stress—a faster heartbeat and heavy breathing, for example—help improve performance by increasing oxygen flow into the brain, boosting alertness.

Both types of exercises proved to be effective at boosting student achievement, especially that of low-income students. (Both writing prompts are available online.) The achievement gap between low- and high-income students decreased by 29 percent, and the course failure rate for low-income students was cut in half, making this intervention a potentially valuable tool for increasing equity.

Stress Is Helpful, to a Degree

Stress isn’t always bad. In a popular TED talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that reframing stress can help people be more productive: “That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain.”

While chronic stress can cause serious health problems, short-term stress can be beneficial, boosting attention and memory performance. In 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted a simple experiment on mice that laid the foundation for understanding the role between stress and learning. They observed that for challenging tasks, a moderate amount of stress is ideal: Too little leads to apathy, but too much impairs performance.

Yerkes and Dodson’s original experiments were flawed, but they opened up new areas of research into the relationship between stress and learning, including in humans. More recent research has replicated their findings under more rigorous experimental conditions, and a 2015 study found that low levels of the stress hormone cortisol enhance memory—and high levels impair it.

Why would stress be beneficial? Researchers hypothesize that it played a key role in early humans’ survival. It helped us not only identify threats but also take advantage of opportunities. We tend to think of stress as a reaction to negative events, and while this is often the case, stress does help sharpen our focus. Feeling nervous about meeting someone famous? The butterflies in your stomach before giving a presentation? Those feelings are telling you, “This is important, so pay attention.”

Transforming Stress

In the classroom, test anxiety can be pervasive, affecting students’ ability to perform at their full potential. But teachers can take a few steps to help students beat test anxiety:

Step 1: Recognize that tests measure more than just academic ability. They also measure how much test anxiety a student suffers from.

Step 2: Reframe stress. It’s not a burden but a way of energizing the body. Consider how top performers, from athletes to musicians, deal with stress. NBA champion Kobe Bryant has said, “Everything negative—pressure, challenges—is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

Step 3: Before a major test, give students a short break to flush out negative thoughts. Writing exercises are effective, as the recent study shows, but so are brain breaks, mindfulness exercises, and movement breaks.

All too often, students think to themselves, “This test is too hard, and I’ll probably fail.” But teachers can step in and encourage a positive mindset toward stress, instead leading students to think, “This test is really challenging, so I need to do my best.”

The takeaway: Take 10 minutes before a test to help students view stress positively. While it’s easy to have faith in the accuracy of tests, students’ anxiety can prevent them from showing what they know.


10 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety

Has this ever happened to you? You&rsquove been studying hard for your chemistry midterm, but when you walk into your exam, your mind goes blank. As you sit down to start your test, you notice your sweaty palms and a pit in your stomach.

If these classic signs of test anxiety sound familiar, your grades and test scores may not reflect your true abilities. Learn ways to manage test anxiety before and during a stressful test.


Know When to Seek Help

If your loved one’s anxiety starts to impede their ability to enjoy life, interact at school, work or hang out with friends, or if it causes problems at home, then it’s time to seek professional help.

Encourage a loved one to make an appointment with a mental health provider. “If they’re resistant, you can remind them that it’s just one appointment,” says McGuire. “It doesn’t mean they have to commit to treatment or to working with that specific therapist. It’s really just an initial check-in, like an annual physical exam but for your mental and emotional health.”

Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Program

Learn more about treatment options offered in our Anxiety Disorders Program.


Causes of Test Anxiety

While test anxiety can be very stressful for students who experience it, many people do not realize that is actually quite common. Nervousness and anxiety are perfectly normal reactions to stress. For some people, however, this fear can become so intense that it actually interferes with their ability to perform well.

So what causes test anxiety? For many students, it can be a combination of things. Poor study habits, poor past test performance, and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety.

A few potential causes of test anxiety include:

  • Fear of failure: If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.
  • Poor testing history: If you have done poorly on tests before, either because you didn't study well enough or because you were so anxious, you couldn't remember the answers, this can cause even more anxiety and a negative attitude every time you have to take another test.
  • Unpreparedness: If you didn't study or didn't study well enough, this can add to your feeling of anxiety.

Biological Causes

In stressful situations, such as before and during an exam, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This helps prepare the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response. Essentially, this response prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or escape the situation entirely.

In a lot of cases, this adrenaline rush is actually a good thing. It helps prepare you to deal effectively with stressful situations, ensuring that you are alert and ready. For some people, however, the symptoms of anxiety they feel can become so excessive that it makes it difficult or even impossible to focus on the test.

Symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking hands can actually make people feel even more nervous, especially if they become preoccupied with these test anxiety symptoms.

Mental Causes

In addition to the underlying biological causes of anxiety, there are many mental factors that can play a role in this condition. Student expectations are one major mental factor. For example, if a student believes that she will perform poorly on an exam, she is far more likely to become anxious before and during a test.

Test anxiety can also become a vicious cycle. After experiencing anxiety during one exam, students may become so fearful about it happening again that they actually become even more anxious during the next exam. After repeatedly enduring test anxiety, students may begin to feel that they have no power to change the situation, a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.


Prepare Well

franckreporter / Getty Images

Ensuring that you are well-prepared for a test can put your mind at ease and help get rid of the anxiety you may feel when test day arrives.

Cramming for a test or exam will only increase your anxiety.

Instead, follow this routine to give yourself the best chance at learning all the material well:

  • Ask friends who study regularly for advice.
  • Find a study skills tutor.
  • Join a study group.
  • Read books about study skills.

Finally, learn all you can about the test or exam in advance. Knowing the types of questions and whether they are multiple-choice or essay can help ensure that there will be no last-minute surprises.


Know When to Seek Help

If your loved one’s anxiety starts to impede their ability to enjoy life, interact at school, work or hang out with friends, or if it causes problems at home, then it’s time to seek professional help.

Encourage a loved one to make an appointment with a mental health provider. “If they’re resistant, you can remind them that it’s just one appointment,” says McGuire. “It doesn’t mean they have to commit to treatment or to working with that specific therapist. It’s really just an initial check-in, like an annual physical exam but for your mental and emotional health.”

Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Program

Learn more about treatment options offered in our Anxiety Disorders Program.


Causes of Test Anxiety

While test anxiety can be very stressful for students who experience it, many people do not realize that is actually quite common. Nervousness and anxiety are perfectly normal reactions to stress. For some people, however, this fear can become so intense that it actually interferes with their ability to perform well.

So what causes test anxiety? For many students, it can be a combination of things. Poor study habits, poor past test performance, and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety.

A few potential causes of test anxiety include:

  • Fear of failure: If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.
  • Poor testing history: If you have done poorly on tests before, either because you didn't study well enough or because you were so anxious, you couldn't remember the answers, this can cause even more anxiety and a negative attitude every time you have to take another test.
  • Unpreparedness: If you didn't study or didn't study well enough, this can add to your feeling of anxiety.

Biological Causes

In stressful situations, such as before and during an exam, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This helps prepare the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response. Essentially, this response prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or escape the situation entirely.

In a lot of cases, this adrenaline rush is actually a good thing. It helps prepare you to deal effectively with stressful situations, ensuring that you are alert and ready. For some people, however, the symptoms of anxiety they feel can become so excessive that it makes it difficult or even impossible to focus on the test.

Symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking hands can actually make people feel even more nervous, especially if they become preoccupied with these test anxiety symptoms.

Mental Causes

In addition to the underlying biological causes of anxiety, there are many mental factors that can play a role in this condition. Student expectations are one major mental factor. For example, if a student believes that she will perform poorly on an exam, she is far more likely to become anxious before and during a test.

Test anxiety can also become a vicious cycle. After experiencing anxiety during one exam, students may become so fearful about it happening again that they actually become even more anxious during the next exam. After repeatedly enduring test anxiety, students may begin to feel that they have no power to change the situation, a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.


Practical Skills

Treating test anxiety begins with teaching study tips and test-taking skills. Research shows that using these skills can help students stay relaxed, focused, and motivated to do well on a test (5).

Study Tips

Good study habits are important for students at all levels. Discuss these tips with your client and develop plans for integrating the tips into students’ current study habits.

  • Establish a study routine. Creating a routine–such as studying for an hour after dinner, or for a half hour each morning–will encourage consistency. When getting started, create a study schedule and set reminders on your phone to help build the habit.
  • Create a dedicated study area. Choose an area that is free of distractions where you can set up your study materials, and leave them between sessions. When it’s time to study, you won’t spend time searching for something you need. Just sit down, and you’re ready to go.
  • Focus on the quality of studying, not the quantity. It’s more effective to space out many short study sessions, rather than having one marathon session. Try studying in half-hour to hour-long blocks, with breaks in between. This way, you can stay alert and focused the whole time.
  • Make studying a priority. When it’s time to study, take it as seriously as you would take a job. Don’t skip study sessions, start on time, and give the task 100% of your attention.
  • Set specific study goals. Goals give direction to a study session and provide a sense of accomplishment when completed. Create goals that can realistically be completed in a single study session, such as: Learn the terms in chapter 1, pass the chapter 2 practice quiz, take notes on chapter 4, or review class notes for 30 minutes.
  • Don’t stop at reading–write down what you learn. By typing or hand-writing information, you will engage in active learning, which can improve retention and understanding. Try making flashcards, writing chapter summaries, or creating an outline of the material. As a bonus, you can refer back to what you’ve written to quickly review the material.
  • Quiz yourself to make information “stick”. Look for practice tests or discussion questions after each chapter you read. Another way to “quiz” yourself is to teach something you’ve studied to a friend, a pet, or even an inanimate object, without looking at the material.
  • A change of scenery can improve information retention. If you’re feeling unfocused, unmotivated, or just plain bored, try studying somewhere new. Libraries, parks and coffee shops are great alternatives for breaking out of your routine.
  • Take care of your mind and body. Healthy sleep habits, exercise, and a balanced diet will boost memory and brain function. Studying is most effective when it’s balanced with good habits.

Test Day

Come Prepared
Use Test-Taking Strategies

10 Ways to Overcome Test Anxiety

Has this ever happened to you? You&rsquove been studying hard for your chemistry midterm, but when you walk into your exam, your mind goes blank. As you sit down to start your test, you notice your sweaty palms and a pit in your stomach.

If these classic signs of test anxiety sound familiar, your grades and test scores may not reflect your true abilities. Learn ways to manage test anxiety before and during a stressful test.


Helping Students Beat Test Anxiety

Fear of failure can prevent students from showing what they know on big tests—but a 10-minute writing exercise can help.

A rapid heartbeat. Sweaty palms. Clouded thoughts. For many students, the biggest obstacle to passing a test isn’t what they know, but the anxiety they feel.

Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on a student’s ability to concentrate on tests, leading to poor performance and, ultimately, fewer opportunities to succeed in school. A new study highlights an effective solution: Guide students to view stress differently—as a boost instead of a burden. Simple 10-minute writing exercises given just before a test helped students see stress as “a beneficial and energizing force” that could help them.

The writing exercises were most effective for disadvantaged students, who may be sensitive to situations that emphasize rank and status—by-products of high-stakes testing. Their wealthier peers may have access to more resources like tutors that can boost their chances of success in school, and in comparison students from low-income families may feel more pressure to do well because they have “less margin for error,” which raises the stakes of failure.

Psychologists Christopher Rozek, Gerardo Ramirez, Rachel Fine, and Sian Beilock followed 1,175 high school biology students for a year to study how stress affected their ability to pass major exams. They noticed that low-income students were disproportionately harmed by difficulty regulating test anxiety. These students experienced “worried thoughts about the possibility of failure” that became a self-fulfilling prophecy: Being stressed about failing increased the likelihood of failure. But 10-minute writing exercises that encouraged students to let go of negative thoughts, regulate their emotions, and reinterpret stress as a positive force helped them perform better.

In the study, two types of writing were assigned immediately before end-of-semester exams were taken:

  • Expressive writing. Students were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about the exam they were about to take. They were also asked to write about other times in their lives when they had experienced worried thoughts.
  • Stress reappraisal. Students were asked to think about their symptoms of stress as helpful for test-taking. For example: “If you find yourself feeling nervous or anxious while taking a test, think about how your body's responses can actually energize and help you.” Students also read a passage that explained how psychological responses to stress—a faster heartbeat and heavy breathing, for example—help improve performance by increasing oxygen flow into the brain, boosting alertness.

Both types of exercises proved to be effective at boosting student achievement, especially that of low-income students. (Both writing prompts are available online.) The achievement gap between low- and high-income students decreased by 29 percent, and the course failure rate for low-income students was cut in half, making this intervention a potentially valuable tool for increasing equity.

Stress Is Helpful, to a Degree

Stress isn’t always bad. In a popular TED talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that reframing stress can help people be more productive: “That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain.”

While chronic stress can cause serious health problems, short-term stress can be beneficial, boosting attention and memory performance. In 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted a simple experiment on mice that laid the foundation for understanding the role between stress and learning. They observed that for challenging tasks, a moderate amount of stress is ideal: Too little leads to apathy, but too much impairs performance.

Yerkes and Dodson’s original experiments were flawed, but they opened up new areas of research into the relationship between stress and learning, including in humans. More recent research has replicated their findings under more rigorous experimental conditions, and a 2015 study found that low levels of the stress hormone cortisol enhance memory—and high levels impair it.

Why would stress be beneficial? Researchers hypothesize that it played a key role in early humans’ survival. It helped us not only identify threats but also take advantage of opportunities. We tend to think of stress as a reaction to negative events, and while this is often the case, stress does help sharpen our focus. Feeling nervous about meeting someone famous? The butterflies in your stomach before giving a presentation? Those feelings are telling you, “This is important, so pay attention.”

Transforming Stress

In the classroom, test anxiety can be pervasive, affecting students’ ability to perform at their full potential. But teachers can take a few steps to help students beat test anxiety:

Step 1: Recognize that tests measure more than just academic ability. They also measure how much test anxiety a student suffers from.

Step 2: Reframe stress. It’s not a burden but a way of energizing the body. Consider how top performers, from athletes to musicians, deal with stress. NBA champion Kobe Bryant has said, “Everything negative—pressure, challenges—is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

Step 3: Before a major test, give students a short break to flush out negative thoughts. Writing exercises are effective, as the recent study shows, but so are brain breaks, mindfulness exercises, and movement breaks.

All too often, students think to themselves, “This test is too hard, and I’ll probably fail.” But teachers can step in and encourage a positive mindset toward stress, instead leading students to think, “This test is really challenging, so I need to do my best.”

The takeaway: Take 10 minutes before a test to help students view stress positively. While it’s easy to have faith in the accuracy of tests, students’ anxiety can prevent them from showing what they know.


How Can Teachers Help Students Combat Test Anxiety?

An estimated 40% of students experience some form of test anxiety, from mild to severe, throughout their academic career. The causes vary, from acute situational causes like lack of preparation or high-pressure testing situations, to mental and emotional causes, like fear of failure, poor test history, low self-esteem, or viewing grades as a reflection of self worth.

The symptoms of test anxiety likewise vary widely from physical symptoms like headache and rapid heartbeat to emotional symptoms like fear and depression. These can occur acutely or for days or weeks before a test.

Some of the most troubling and impactful symptoms are the behavioral and cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating and blanking out on answers to the test despite thorough preparation, because they create a negative feedback loop of poor test results that lead to more test anxiety. In some cases, test anxiety can become so severe that students will drop out of school in order to avoid failing a test. In some students, behavioral symptoms like substance abuse or self-harm can cause even greater issues.

Researchers in Education Psychology have determined that, beyond negatively impacting the emotional well-being of students, test anxiety is also a strong predictor of poor long-term academic performance. Furthermore, the researchers found that focusing solely on emotional coping techniques to combat test anxiety–such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques–did not tangibly change those results. However, a more multifaceted approach to combating test anxiety, particularly with the support of instructors, can positively influence results.

So, what can educators do to help students?

Discussion

Part of anxiety is often a sense of isolation, a belief that everyone else has everything under control. Discuss with your students the prevalence of test anxiety and help to destigmatize it. Odds are at least a third of your students will have some experience with test anxiety and many may not realize how common that is. Naming and discussing the anxiety can help to dispel its power.

Partnership

Students can view assessments as challenges or trials, with their instructor as their adversary. Make it clear that you are your students’ partner and guide in their education, not their foe--you may utilize item analysis to inform your exam design and uphold student learning. Offer to support students as they prepare for assessments. Sometimes the simple act of explaining the purpose of an assessment, which can seem obvious to the instructor, can help students reframe the assessment and their attitude toward it.

Flexibility

Often, instructors lean heavily on student disability services to support students with diagnosed test anxiety, but often those resources are overburdened or difficult to navigate, only heightening the experience of anxiety. If possible, work with your students individually to see if simple accommodations in the classroom can help, as opposed to burdening the students with solving the problems on their own. Gradescope’s Online Assignments help instructors prioritize accessibility and flexibility, with features like student-specific time limit extensions that make it easy for instructors to accommodate individual students’ needs.

Also keep in mind that students will excel at different types of assessments. Offer a variety of assessment styles as well as low stakes and high stakes assessment to accommodate learning differences and to gain insights into student learning outside of high stakes assessment. This, additionally, offers you greater insight into student learning via item analysis.

Transparency

Discuss the format of in-class and online assessments in advance, especially prior to the first assessment of the semester. If possible, offer a preview of the exam, either using past years’ exams or sample questions. Often, knowing what to expect can help alleviate test anxiety. You can even offer a low- or no-stakes practice exam. With Gradescope, online assessments are simple to administer and grade as part of test prep and to increase feedback loops.

Perspective

Studies have shown that perception has a marked impact on test anxiety, with perceived difficulty and test consequences leading to higher test anxiety. Instructors can help by promoting a supportive academic environment generally, and creating a classroom culture focused on growth and learning. Reinforce the idea that assessments are meant to do just that: assess students’ knowledge, not to punish any knowledge gaps. Test anxiety can result from a skewed perspective, like a belief that the exam is “make-or-break” and that their future hinges on a given test. Getting proper perspective can help students stay clear-headed.

Preparation

Set aside some time early in the semester to discuss test preparation, especially with younger students. Discuss creating a study plan and maintaining a healthy perspective. Emphasize the importance of holistic preparation: encourage students to focus on their physical and mental health in addition to studying the material. Getting a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast support success, as does regular exercise and hydration. Sometimes, going to bed on time is more important than one last cram session, assuming your students followed their study plan.

Instructor support is critical in helping students overcome test anxiety. These steps can be easily implemented to effectively help your students perform their best on exams in your course and throughout their academic careers.


How to reduce test anxiety

Well before the exam

Be prepared. Start studying a few weeks in advance so that you have enough time to prepare for your test. Space your studying out into smaller chunks over time. Use one of the Learning Center’s weekly calendars to make a schedule. You can also use Learning Center coaching appointments to help you create a study schedule and remain accountable.

Study effectively. Check out the Learning Center’s tips for studying effectively to learn about and use effect study strategies that adequately prepare you for exams and help you learn, understand, and remember material.

Engage in self-care. Take care of your overall health by eating well, getting enough restful sleep, incorporating exercise or movement into your day, and participating in relaxing and fun activities that you enjoy.

Create a calming worksheet. This is a paper that you can carry with you all the time and especially before your exam. On this paper you can put motivational quotes, why you are likely to succeed, breathing techniques, pictures of your supporters, and anything else that will keep you motivated without making you anxious. Create this several days in advance, when you are not stressed and anxious, so that you can turn to it if you do become anxious.

Talk to your professor to get an idea of what is on the exam and what to expect. Look at old exams and practice exams from that class. This can help you better understand what to expect and better prepare. It will also reduce some of the fear and anxiety of the unknown.

Immediately before the exam

Get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours) the night before the exam. Your ability to think clearly and to deal with anxiety improve with sleep.

Eat something to help with focus and attention. Bring water to stay hydrated.

Avoid too much caffeine. If you’ve been hitting the caffeine hard to stay awake and study or to stay focused, know that it can also have a negative effect on your nerves.

Gather all of the materials you need in advance, including a pencil, eraser, or calculator, so that you are not rushing around before the exam.

Play calming or familiar music to help you relax.

Arrive to the exam early enough to find a seat that will help, not hinder your focus. (Do you focus best up front? Near a window? Know yourself.)
Bring ear plugs if you get distracted by noise.

Don’t let the exam define you. Remember that your self-worth and intelligence does not depend on your performance on this one exam.

Give yourself a pep talk to reframe your anxiety as excitement. Actually telling yourself you’re excited will help you see the exam more positively and experience more positive emotions.

During the exam

  • Breathe deeply from your belly.
  • Tighten various muscle groups, and then relax them.
  • Stand and stretch or shrug shoulders.
  • Close your eyes and count to ten.
  • Sitting up, relaxing your shoulders, and being mindful of your posture can help you feel more powerful, confident, and assertive. It makes you less stressed, sluggish, and anxious.
  • Research shows that slouching and hunching poses decrease people’s persistence and creativity when trying to solve complex problems and increase negative self-thoughts.
  • Research shows people have higher self-esteem and think of themselves more positively when they sit upright rather than hunched.

Calm your emotions and thoughts.

  • Focus only on present moment to help you stay grounded.
      Example: “I am sitting at a desk in Carroll Hall. It is 2:00 pm on Tuesday.”
    • Avoid thoughts about the future or past.
        Example: “I need an A on this test in order to improve my g.p.a.”
          Example: “I should have done more practice problems.”
        • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
            Example: “It’s okay if I can’t answer this question—I can answer another question instead.”
          • Stay focused on the current task, which is to complete the test, not on how you believe it relates to your self-value.
          • Keep realistic expectations. Often times it is not realistic to expect a 100% on an exam. Be okay with doing well, not perfectly.
          • Focus on yourself and what you are doing. Ignore other people around you and don’t compare yourself to others.

          You may also like:

          College Anxiety: How to Help an Anxious Student Transition Successfully

          College Admission Anxiety: How to Navigate It in the Wake of the Scandal

          Do I Have Test Anxiety? (Self-Assessment)

          Anxiety Medications for Teens: Treatment Options for Your Child

          Anxiety in Children: Helping a Child with Anxiety Deal With the Back to School Transition



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