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Test Anxiety

Test Anxiety

Teen: Dear Dr. Expert,

I'm in Grade 11 and I suffer from terrible test anxiety. I'll be sitting in an exam and all of a sudden my mind will go blank. The room feels like it is closing in and it becomes so difficult to catch my breath. It's so frustrating because I can't stop it. I do so well on my homework assignments, and then when it comes to the tests, I fail! My parents are always on my back saying I don't study hard enough. But it doesn't matter how hard I study, I still can't remember anything while writing the exam. Once I have handed it in, all the answers become so clear. It's so frustrating - is there something I can do?

Confused in Coquitlam
Dr. Expert: Dear Confused in Coquitlam,

Test anxiety can be tricky to deal with, but there are definitely things you can do to tackle test anxiety head on! One of the best ways is to make sure you're prepared for the exam, spacing out your study sessions so you're not cramming right before. Make sure you get a good night's sleep and exercise in the days before the test to keep your stress levels down.

Learning some basic test-taking strategies can help - when we have a plan we tend to feel more confident. For example, when you first get the test, look over the whole test before beginning. Recognize that you will not know all of the answers. Start with the questions you know to build your confidence - don't feel like you have to take the test in the order it is laid out by the teacher. Make sure you read the questions carefully. You might also want to start with questions worth more points.

Try to change your thinking about the situation, turning unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones! Instead of saying, "I'm going to fail this for sure," say, "I can do this, one question at a time." Tell yourself helpful coping statements like "I just need to try my best," "I know I can handle this because I've studied," and "I know my stuff, I just need to take a deep breath." Be kind to yourself with helpful and positive statements.

Make sure you aren't falling into thinking traps; think realistically about the situation. Challenge negative thoughts and come up with more balanced and realistic ones. For example, instead of "I'm going to fail this science test and then fail the entire course," you can think, "Although there is a small chance I might not pass the exam it doesn't mean I won't pass the class, since I've done well on other assignments."

Calm breathing also helps relax your mind and body, and it can even be done in the moment without anyone knowing! The more your practice these strategies the better they'll work when you need them. Good luck!

Learn more strategies for test anxiety.

For more help and ideas, check out the MindShift app.