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Counseling & Psychological Services
Montana State University
P.O. Box 173180
Bozeman, MT 59717-3180

Tel: (406) 994-4531
Fax: (406) 994-2485
Location: 211 Swingle
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Test Anxiety

Why Am I So Nervous?!

Most people experience some level of nervousness, tension, or anxiety in the face of stress or important events. Feeling this anxiety is a biological/evolutionary response known as fight or flight. It gives us the adrenaline and energy to either stay and "fight" our stressful stimulus or flee the threat.

In this way, some nervousness can actually be useful in that it gives us enough energy or focus to maintain our "edge". Athletes or performers use this to their advantage to "psych themselves up" for their game or performance; without it they may lose focus or concentration. This is a positive, facilitative form of nervousness or stress called eustress.

Just as the absence of nervousness or eustress can lead to poor performance, too much nervousness can be debilitating. This negative type of stress is called anxiety of distress.

We experience stress and anxiety in a variety of ways:

our bodies definitely exhibit symptoms of anxiety. Nervous stomach, rapid heart rate, etc. are all ways in which our bodies respond to anxiety.
our minds respond to stress: negative thoughts ("I'm going to fall"), forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, low productivity, etc.
our mood and how we feel about ourselves can change in the face of anxiety. We can feel anxious, depressed, frustrated, discouraged, or angry when anxiety is high.

Managing Test Anxiety

practicing relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing) both regularly and before/during a test can help you decrease your overall level of anxiety. Deep breathing is good because it will help you physically relax and you can do anywhere.
Positive Self-Talk:
replacing negative, catastrophic thoughts with more positive, encouraging ones ("I can do this", "I'm well-prepared") can help put a lid on the negative thoughts that only cause/perpetuate anxiety.
there is no substitute for studying and preparing. Try to begin studying at least a week in advance, and never go 24 hours without reviewing your material.
as you study, try to predict what will be on the test. That way when you see it turn up on the exam it's something you've studies.
Talk to the professor:
schedule an appointment with your professor a week before the test to clarify any material, ask about the test format, etc. The more you know, the less anxious you will be about "unknown elements".
Take your time!
read instructions carefully, make sure you know what the questions are asking, underline keywords, etc. Plan to be the last person done; this will remove any pressure or anxiety to "finish first".
Be early:
get to class early so you don't feel rushed, can sit where you want, and compose yourself before the test.
Don't panic!
if you don't know the answer, take a moment to relax and think. If you still don't know it, use common sense and good test-taking strategies. Do whatever you can to eliminate incorrect options to improve your chances of picking the right answer. On essay questions, try to remember as much as you can and elaborate on those points; partial credit is better than no credit.
focus only on the test and not the final grade, what that grade might mean, how the grade may impact your financial aid, etc. Avoiding these catastrophic thoughts will help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Ignore others:
avoid talking to people who may increase your anxiety by "stressing out" about the test beforehand. Don't worry about when others finish, what friends have said about the class, etc.
Take a break:
if it is allowed, go to the restroom, get a drink, stretch. If not, stretch or practice deep breathing from your seat, or get up to sharpen your pencil.
Practice good self-care:
eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and having a balanced study schedule can help you not only before a test, but also keep you healthy throughout the semester.
Be a good test-taker:
be aware of test-taking techniques. Feeling as though you can "master" a variety of testing formats can help reduce your anxiety when faced with them.

Ways to Relax

Deep Breathing:
taking 10 deep breaths in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth can greatly reduce anxiety, and can be done in a testing situation.
Muscle Relaxation:
tense your muscles and hold for 5 seconds, then relax them. Start at your feet and work your way up to your calves, thighs, stomach, arms, neck, and shoulders. This can be done in a testing situation.
use your mind to visualize something relaxing. You may choose to visualize a beach scene, or visualize yourself getting the grade you want. This can be done briefly during a test.
practicing deep relaxation and meditation away from test situations can help reduce your overall anxiety. Repeating a word or phrase, counting your breaths, or listening to a meditation tape are some techniques that focus your mind while allowing your body to relax.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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