Test taking can be one of the most nerve wracking things we ever do no matter how old we are. In most situations the test results are perceived to be life altering and make it or break it. This perception greatly increases our stress during the test.
One of the most interesting facts surrounding test taking is not the takers knowledge or grasp of the material that plays a part in low scores. Yes there is the misguided soul that crammed the night before and did not do well (see Stress and Learning article). For most that get low scores it is their perception of the test and the way they have conditioned themselves to prepare and take the test that is their Achilles heel not that they are unprepared from a knowledge of material stand point.
Pre-test anxiety leading up to full blown test taking anxiety can start days even weeks before the test. This anxiety can have numerous causes some of which are fear of failure, losing control, issues with self-confidence, perfectionism, to name a few as well as other reasons that ultimately need to be searched out.
What-ever the cause of the initial pre-test anxiety that has progressed into the stress of full blown testing anxiety resulting in clouding of the thinking process so efficiently that it is difficult for the student to focus on the question being asked. It is like their nervous system went into overdrive, shutting down so it would not overload. This is exactly what happens resulting in the brain temporarily shorting out.
Contrary to perceptions of the brain being like a digital computer that takes in information bit by bit and adds them up to a conclusion the human brain is analog taking images, feeling situations of the here and now and comparing them with similar instances of the past to make a picture and reality of what normal is. If the past is traumatic and filled with anxiety say from a person’s first test then that is the normal and conditioning of their reality and the reality that they base all other testing situations on, leaving their nervous system stuck in fight or flight mode. This does not only happen in test taking. Test taking is only a specific name for a larger category of performance anxieties that can range from issues with public speaking, closing the deal in sales, to being stressed while driving in rush hour traffic. All are issues with stress and affect our bodies.
The first step in helping to reboot the nervous system is breathing. When we get stressed we actually forget how to breathe. We go from deep breathing that keeps us calm, to shallow breathing that makes us nervous
and deprives us of oxygen, causing our hearts to race and skin to perspire making us very anxious.
If you feel this happening take a few minutes to take a deep breath in the nose and out the mouth then breathe normally and focus on the things you appreciate and are most thankful for. This helps to reset the nervous system in the short term.
Test taking anxiety can be complicated to overcome by oneself for we know there is something wrong
but are frustrated by our inability to fix the problem and the undesired results keep repeating themselves.
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