Many people suffer with test anxiety and its range of consequences. Some consequences are physical such as: rapid heart rate, shortness of breadth, and profuse perspiration. Some are emotional such as feeling ashamed, embarrassed, terrified and panicky. And some are substantial like failing a professional exam multiple times or getting a low score on the SAT. Test anxiety can be difficult to identify because most people get nervous taking exams. But, test anxiety is far more debilitating than normal test jitters and its effects can be devastating to the sufferer’s self esteem and personal goals.

Benjamin Moss, C.HT, understands test anxiety and has helped thousands of people overcome it for the past 20 years. He has worked with professionals helping them pass licensing exams like the CSR and achievement tests like the LSAT. Here are some of his suggestions for helping reduce test anxiety.

1. Recognize that YOU are NOT the Problem

Test anxiety has nothing to do with intelligence. It is important to understand this and remove yourself from the problem. Because test anxiety causes so much embarrassment and humiliation, sufferers often believe they are stupid or incompetent which makes them reluctant to get help.

Test anxiety is caused by the body’s perception that it is in danger. The test or performance environment triggers the fight or flight response sending the body into a heightened state of alertness. Adrenaline floods the system, the heart pumps harder sending blood to major muscles, and the senses shut down. These physical changes interfere with focus, memory recall, breathing, and vision which are critical factors to one’s ability to perform well on tests. It is important to recognize that one’s intelligence or ability has nothing to do with test anxiety.

2. Come up with a study plan (rather than avoid it)

People with test anxiety tend to avoid studying because it makes them anxious. However, avoidance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The procrastinator will arrive at the test feeling underprepared and overwhelmed. It is a set up for a negative test experience. Rather than avoid studying, it is better commit to a study schedule. Doing so, sends the message that you, not your fear, is in charge. Rewarding oneself at the end of each study time reduces the fear and reinforces a positive experience.

3. Practice relaxation for several weeks before the exam

It is very helpful to practice relaxing. Some thoughts trigger the fight or flight response, but others trigger the relaxation response. It is important to learn how to activate the relaxation response. Taking ten to twenty deep slow breadths or using progressive muscle relaxation techniques are great ways to help the body relax. The more practice, the more proficient you become and the easier it will be to “relax” in stressful circumstances, such as during a test. Since this may be a new skill, guidance can be very effective. The Test Anxiety Guru program is an excellent way to help the distressed person’s body relax.

4. Go through the worst case scenario and your back-up plan

This one sounds funny, but looking at the worst case scenario can often help to identify the underlying fear. This will determine if the fear is rational or irrational. An irrational or unrealistic fear may be, “if I fail this test no one will ever hire me”. Irrational fears can be dramatic but somewhat unrealistic so it is important to challenge them. You can do this by searching for proof of this conclusion. People fail tests all the time which may result in a delay for a promotion or license, but does not render them unemployable. When the fear is rational such as, “if I fail this exam, my parents won’t pay for college.” it is useful to prepare a back up plan. In this case, the student can look into a student loan or a community college. Just knowing you have a back-up plan, helps minimize the anxiety.

5. Visualize taking the test in a calm way and passing it.

Visualization is a great strategy to use for goal accomplishment. Sport celebrities imagine themselves hitting that home run, making that hole in one, or finishing first. Picturing a successful test day can help lead to a great result but it requires discipline and practice.

Sit quietly and close your eyes. Imagine you are driving to the test. You feel calm and confident. You arrive at the test site and park your car in front. You have time and are not rushed. Your breathing is steady and even. You find the room and focus on clearing your mind. Your mind is clear and sharp. You feel ready, strong, and courageous. You open the test and find the answers come easily. It’s not as bad as you thought it would be, in fact, you are in the zone. You complete the exam and feel good about your performance. You get your results and did really well. You feel great. The more you can visualize a good performance the better this exercise is. Try doing this at least four times before the exam. It is especially nice to do before bed time on the night before the test.

Finally, remember that test anxiety is a solvable problem. It is important not to let it interfere with your goals as a student or professional. Try these suggested steps or utilize a program such as the Test Anxiety Guru program to reduce paralyzing anxiety and take future tests successfully.

Author's Bio: 

Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist Benjamin Moss, has been in practice since 1989 specializing in enhancing test performance. Benjamin developed and refined his test-taking program during twenty years of private, one on one sessions with his clients. He works with test-taking clients from all over the world, helping them pass exams in medicine, dentistry, law, psychiatry, psychology, nursing, accounting, real estate and computer science, as well as helping students with college and graduate school entrance exams. He works extensively with police officers and firemen to stay calm and focused for their professional exams.

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