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Coping With Test and Exam Anxiety

A simple myth:
If I experience test anxiety, I will do poorly on all my exams.

For the most part this is not true. Research shows that test-anxious individuals do not perform worse than non-test-anxious individuals. The only time a test-anxious individual may perform worse during exams is if they are spending most of their test-taking time worrying instead of focusing on the test. Since full concentration on the test is necessary for peak performance, excessive worrying will hurt your performance. Here’s how to avoid being overcome with anxiety during tests.

Follow a Regular Routine
Following a regular routine helps to reduce stress. Performing the same tasks every day will make you more comfortable. Your regular routine should include:

• Regular exercise
• Quick study sessions of the test material
• A healthy diet
• Plenty of sleep
• Time with friends

Reducing Stress Before the Test
Physical Preparation: The morning of the test you should try to eat a balanced breakfast. Don't eat a breakfast of ONLY carbohydrates (like cereal). This leads to a quick wake up, but you will feel tired two hours after breakfast. Instead you should eat a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fruit.

There are also specific foods and beverages you should avoid because they can increase your stress level. Try to AVOID eating:

• Processed food
• Artificial sweeteners
• Soft drinks
• Chocolate
• Caffeine
• Junk food
• Alcohol

Reducing Stress During the Test
• Quickly survey the exam. Note how the points are allotted and if there are some questions you might find easier.
• Start with an easy problem to build confidence. Confidence quickly overcomes anxiety.
• Try to tackle the questions with the highest point value early in the exam.
• Budget your time on the exam. Try to answer each question.
• If there is time at the end, look over the exam for little mistakes that might have been made along the way. Remember that in mathematics, checking your answers can be very useful.
• If you know something is wrong with a solution but can't figure out where the error is, turn the paper over and start the problem from the beginning. Many times small errors go unnoticed when reviewing a solution. By beginning the problem again, you reduce the risk of making that same error again.
• If you go blank, put your pencil down and take a few deep breaths while letting your mind wander to other things, preferably a positive recent experience.

Stay Focused and Stay Positive
Research shows that everybody talks to themselves during a test. However, test-anxious individuals say more negative things to themselves. Cooler-headed individuals say more positive things to themselves during the test. Stop any negative thoughts and change them to more helpful ones as soon as they start.

Failure on one question or one test or even one course will not ruin your life. Look at things more realistically. Think of the number of tests you take over your entire college experience and realize that doing poorly on a few will not have much of an effect on your life.

Lowering your anxiety will make you less distracted during tests. You can do this by slowing down your breathing through deep breaths. Visualizing a pleasing image has the added advantage of changing what you are thinking about during a test and may help boost your performance.

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