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Beating Test Anxiety


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Avital walked into the test feeling great. She had studied the night before and she was sure to ace her grammar test. But, suddenly, when her teacher passed out the test paper, Avital found her palms sweating and her heart racing.

“Alright, girls, you have forty minutes. Good luck,” her teacher announced.

As Avital opened the packet, her mind immediately went blank. Verb, noun, adjective, adverb, and preposition. The words swam through her head. She struggled to read the first question and fill in the bubble on her scantron. But, with the second question, Avital got completely stuck. She just couldn’t think straight. First, she filled in “A,” then erased it, and filled in “B.” Looking back at the question, she decided that maybe “A” was correct. She furiously erased “B” and filled in “A” again.

For the next ten minutes, Avital erased and filled in so many times that she needed to request a new answer sheet from her teacher. By the end of the period, Avital had only managed to fill out ten questions on the thirty-question test.

“Time’s up, girls. Please pass up the test booklets and scantrons,” the teacher said. Avital handed in her test, completely defeated. She knew the material. Why couldn’t she take the test?

Test Anxiety

Lynn D’Arcy of KidsHealth explains: “Test anxiety is actually a type of performance anxiety — a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure’s on to do well.” People can experience performance anxiety when they are about to “try out for the school play, sing a solo on stage, get into position at the pitcher’s mound, step onto the platform in a diving meet or go into an important interview.”

When you are under stress, your body releases the hormone adrenaline, which prepares it for danger. Adrenaline gears up the body to either fight the threat or run away from it. This hormone causes the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating, rapid heart rate, or hyperventilation.

Like other anxiety disorders, test anxiety can produce a tortuous cycle. The more you think about the bad things that can happen, the stronger the anxiety becomes. This makes you less able to concentrate on the material at hand and therefore more likely to do poorly on the test.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that there can be several reasons behind an individual’s test anxiety. Among them are:

* Fear of failure. While the pressure to perform can act as a motivator, it can also be devastating to individuals who tie their self-worth to the outcome of a test. This fear can create a cycle of failure.

* Lack of preparation. Waiting until the last minute to study or not studying at all can understandably leave individuals feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

* Poor test history. Previous problems or bad experiences with test-taking can lead to a negative mindset and influence performance on future tests. Poor test history often coincides with the fear of failure, and creates a vicious sequence of events.

Test anxiety can have physical and emotional effects that include:

Physical symptoms:

* Stomachaches
* Headaches
* Sweaty palms
* Nausea

Emotional symptoms:

* Memory lapses
* Mental blocks
* Anger * Depression
* Low self-esteem

What To Do

* Channel stress. A little stress can be good for you and your body. It is your body’s signal to get moving. Instead of shutting down and choosing to procrastinate because of your anxiety, use it to your advantage. Let the anxiety push you to begin studying earlier so that you are prepared for the test.

* Be prepared. Good study skills are key to overcoming test anxiety. Most importantly, don’t cram the night before the test. Studies show that information learned over a longer period of time is remembered with more clarity and ease than information taken in all at one time.

* Maintain a positive attitude. When feeling paralyzed by anxiety, it is important to change your thinking. Rather than going in with an attitude of, “This is so hard. There is so much material to learn and I just will not be able pass,” reassure yourself that you are in control and can succeed.

* Take care of yourself. Ensure that you begin the day on a full stomach and with a good night’s sleep. Because anxiety is not simply a mental reaction, your physical well-being is an important factor in contributing to overall test performance.

* Ask for help. If you have done your best, but still feel unprepared to face that challenge, it is okay to ask a parent, teacher, school guidance counselor, or a tutor for help.

Good Study Skills

As mentioned above, cramming is not a good idea. Rather, space it out. Instead of studying for three hours one night, study for one hour on three separate nights. This will give your brain a chance to transfer the information from short-term memory to long-term memory and ensure an easier retrieval.

Secondly, recite it or read it aloud. Part of memory is the phonological loop, which involves hearing the words we say. These sounds sit in our memories for slightly longer than the words that we simply read. Therefore, if you recite the information there is a better chance of it remaining in your long-term memory.

Lastly, create a designated workspace. Study spaces need not be quiet or clutter-free because some people working best with noise. However, this workspace should be the same place that you study each time you have an exam. This way, you are priming your body to recognize, “It’s study time now. Time to get my thinking cap on.”

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About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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