Mind over Matter: Dealing with Test Anxiety

January 26, 2016 

test-anxiety.jpgWritten by Nathan Rudolph

“I’m just not a good test taker.”

If you come in contact with school-age students, you may have heard this lament.

There are many factors that contribute to success on tests. Typically, one of the largest factors is a student’s consistency in completing everyday tasks like homework. If the student is not completing his homework, you can expect that he will struggle with tests. In contrast, some students have high test grades and poor homework grades. More commonly, though, students do well on classwork and homework but receive average or poor test scores. In some cases, this is due to what is known as “test anxiety.”

According to Moshe Zeidner in his book Test Anxiety: The State of the Art (Plenum, New York, 1998), test anxiety is “a combination of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, fear of failure, and catastrophizing, that occur before or during test situations.” As you can imagine from this description, test anxiety affects a student’s ability to focus on the task at hand: the test.

At A+, we provide ACT and SAT test preparation tutoring to hundreds of students every year, and many of our students share with us that they suffer from test anxiety in some form. Although every student is different and experiences this type of anxiety in different ways, we have found several effective techniques for dealing with test anxiety. Here are some that our students have found to be the most helpful when facing a standardized test:

  • Familiarization: Of all the techniques, the most helpful one is familiarizing oneself with the test. Students preparing for a big exam such as the SAT or ACT have the advantage of being able to work through multiple “retired” tests that the test makers have administered in the past. By becoming familiar with the format, directions, question types, guessing strategy, and timing of the test, students can reduce many of the “unknowns” on the exam, which goes a long way toward reducing anxiety.
  • Visualization: This technique consists of imagining a relaxing place or situation for a number of minutes before the test. After getting into a calmer mindset, students can then approach the test without overwhelming feelings of worry.
  • Writing Down Your Feelings: This technique simply consists of arriving to the test center a few minutes early, taking out a blank sheet of paper, and writing down feelings. This technique has been proven in a research study at the University of Chicago to significantly decrease test anxiety. “The writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties before taking the test and accordingly freed up brainpower needed to complete the test successfully — brainpower that is normally occupied by worries about the test,” said Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University.
  • Mindfulness: Some research has shown a correlation between mindfulness and improved grades. Mindfulness resembles meditation in that participants practice pausing, reflecting, and refocusing on the present. Students practicing mindfulness develop a recognition and acceptance of themselves and their surroundings. In turn, this allows students to focus on the present task and remember skills required to overcome present challenges. Practicing mindfulness allows for recall of academic concepts and reduction of stress during tests.

If you have questions about test preparation or would like more information about dealing with test anxiety, call A+ at 215.886.9188 or email us at office@aplustutoring.com.




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