Courtney Weaver discusses helpful strategies that students can use to manage test anxiety. The information she shares is available here: https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/support/counseling-and-psychological-services/managing-test-anxiety

Transcript: 

Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm also the director over at well WVU here at West Virginia University. So today I'm actually joined once again by no one. So it's just me talking to myself for the next 10 or so minutes. But thank you for tuning in. We really appreciate it.

So today is likely to be the last podcast for the semester, and I'd like to focus on something that all of our students are probably working on managing right now. And that is test anxiety. So a lot of the information that I'm sharing with you today, I've actually taken from Brown university. They have some great information on their website about managing testing anxiety that was actually written by someone at the university of Illinois Chicago's academic center for excellence.

And that person was Cecilia downs. So I want to give them credit where credit is due, because it's some really good information that we'll be sharing with you today. So, if you are anything like me, I'm pretty sure that I have anxiety 90% of the time. But if you are experiencing anxiety in relation to a test that's coming up, you actually might experience some physical symptoms.

So those symptoms could include an upset stomach. You might have sweaty palms, your heart might be racing or other things like that. You also might have trouble remembering information and. Thinking clearly. And so if this anxiety is actually interfering with your performance or your quality of life, there are some suggestions that for actions that you can take.

So first think about what the possible causes of that anxiety are. So thinking more deeply about the nature of your fears and then coming up with an, with an answer to that fear. So that could be like a change in your behavior or a change in your thinking, which is also known as like reframing the situation.

So you might have some realistic fears. Like one of those realistic fears might be. I'm not ready for this test. So the answer is that you want to work on your time management and perhaps if you are one of those people, who's a perfectionist. You might want to work on. Maybe dismantling that a little bit.

Another realistic fear might be, you know, if I fail this exam, I might have to repeat this class next year or next semester. So if that's the case, you know, you want to talk to someone like your advisor or the Dean, or maybe you a counselor and try to be as realistic as you can about your options.

So in a lot of cases, there are some second chances, second chances that are. Built into the system. Now those are realistic fears, but let's talk about unfounded fears. So an example of that might be, you know, my family and classmates and professors will think that I'm not very bright if I don't do well on this exam.

So the response here is that at this level of education, you know, you are in college. You know, everyone is smart and intelligence is not the primary. Variable that is separating top performers from lower ones after you graduate, you know, you're going to be judged on your work performance. And so you'll have plenty of opportunities to distinguish yourself.

I mean, I can say with certainty that you don't. Put your GPA on your resume. Another unfounded fear might be thinking, you know, I used to think I was smart, but now I'm no longer sure. And the answer to this is that almost all students. And I mean, all people, all adults, they experience this kind of doubt.

It's perfectly normal. There's another thing that. It's called imposter syndrome, which we could do a whole other podcast on that. And actually we probably will. But that's just thinking that you're not good enough for a situation and in an actuality you are. All right. So I just mentioned something about maybe dismantle lane or letting go of your perfectionism.

So this can be really difficult on an emotional level, but it is important to try something that is just a plain fact, is that in college it's virtually impossible to learn every detail that you'll need to know. And so what you need to do is focus more on the most important concepts and learn those well enough.

So that maybe you could actually teach them yourself. So understanding of the major concepts are gonna help you guess on some of the details that you might be not able to. To recall during the test. And so one of the tips to help curb your perfectionism is to set a time limit and then go through a set of your lecture notes with the goal of pulling out only the most important concepts and facts.

And then tell yourself that if you have time later on, you will return to gather the less important information. And what's important here is that knowing that you can return will make it emotionally easier to leave more of those minor details of behind for the moment. One of the things that you can do to help manage your test anxiety before the exam even occurs is to put things into perspective.

So it's important to remind yourself that yes, your upcoming exam. Is important, but your entire future, isn't going to hinge on the results of that exam. I think one thing that is good to think about is that every single person in every single academic discipline has at one point struggled academically.

And I think that can kind of help say, you know what, no one is perfect and we all struggle sometimes. So that's important to remember. Another thing that might help maybe put some things into perspective is to remind yourself of your past successes. So it's often easy to lose perspective when you find out that maybe you're no longer the top student in the class and on an intellectual level, you know, that you're competing against many, many other bright students, but you, you might have to remind yourself of that.

Because sometimes our emotions, aren't always logical. And so bring to mind these past successes on exams, like yeah, I've taken a test like this before and I've was really good at it. And so that's always important because you can say, if I did it once, then I can do it again. Another useful trick is to not let a test.

Don't give it that power to define you. So it's not a measure of your intelligence or your brilliance, you know, you know, a lot of times the performance on an exam depends on how effectively you studied. And you know, some of the test taking strategies that you use, there are a lot of people out there who just flat out struggle with taking tests.

And so if you are the one, if you are someone that's does struggle with test taking know that there are resources on campus that are available to you to help you with that. Another thing to remember is that a certain level of anxiety is actually helpful in performing your best. When we also, when we talk about stress management people, there's that misconception that we need to eliminate all stress, but actually a.

Small amount of stress, which is called eustress is actually helpful in keeping us alive and in performing well. And so a little bit is helpful, but if it gets to be something that is excessive, there are some control strategies to moderate that so that it doesn't become overwhelming. Also, depending on the type of test that you are doing, there might be some opportunities to practice some of the questions.

So if they're essay questions or multiple choice questions sometimes professors provide that. Or if you're taking a test that is like a standardized test, there are always practice, practice exams available. So you can maybe. Okay. Familiarize yourself with the format of the test. So that'll help, you know, what to expect on the actual day of the exam.

I know we've talked about this in a previous podcast a couple of weeks ago, but it is important to get a good night's sleep for several days before the exam. Remember you don't want to stay up all night and pull those all-nighters because it doesn't do you any good in the long run because with adequate sleep, you're going to be able to think more clearly, and you're going to be able to deal with your anxiety in a better way.

So if you are having trouble sleeping you might want to consult your healthcare provider so that they can provide some strategies for you. And the final tip for preparing before an exam is that it's important to remember that high anxiety can actually increase the impact of caffeine. So on test days, you probably want to reduce your intake.

If you are someone who is experiencing high test anxiety, So if you normally have maybe two or three cups of coffee, maybe just stick to one on a test day. Now for those tips and tricks for during the exam, the first one is to get to the test site a little bit early, but. Don't really talk to any other students right before the exam, because their anxiety is, could only increase your own.

Plus if you get into conversations about how much you've studied and maybe they studied for 20 hours and you studied for 15, and now you're thinking, you know, I didn't study enough, but everyone learns differently. So perhaps just avoid. Talking with them besides the usual, you know, good morning or good afternoon.

So instead, maybe it take a walk around the building. You can silently talk to yourself. You can meditate a little bit practice some deep breathing or pray if that is something that you'd like to do. But actually moving your body can help get rid of some of that nervous energy that you're experiencing.

Once you get into the classroom or whatever it is that you're taking the test, try to choose a seat in a place that has few distractions. So probably not near the door, you'll probably actually want to go more towards the front of the room. And then if you're someone where noise, you know, really distracts you, you might want to bring earplugs to limit those distractions, but you need to make sure that the professor or the Proctor or whoever is running the exam, that that's okay.

That you have those earplugs with you because sometimes those aren't allowed. So do you want to double-check. Before you use them, it may be helpful to remind yourself that you likely don't know all the material that could possibly appear on the test and that nobody else does either. But what you can do is you can promise yourself that you're going to do your best to get the mileage out of what you do now.

And along those same lines, expect a few kind of curve balls on the exam. So your sense of what the questions might be is not going to match perfectly with what the writer of the test had in mind. You know, but if it's, you know, it is final season. So remember how previous tests were written, that's likely going to be very similar to the final But if you do, like when you encounter that curve ball, you don't try not to get upset and lose your concentration.

So you can either make an intelligent gas or Mark the question and return it later. I know that's something that I used to do and I had to take tests as I would go through and see what I already knew. Answer those questions and then sort of go back to those questions that I wasn't quite sure about an answer from there because also at that time, you know, right at the beginning of the testers, You got a lot of feelings and I had to give myself some time to sort of calm down.

And once I did, I was able to think more clearly. And I found that if I went back to those questions, I actually did have a sense of what the answer was. And now if you encounter negative thoughts, Literally just say, stop to yourself and remind yourself of past successes. But if you continue to feel overly anxious, there's actually a really quick anxiety control procedure that you can do to reduce your tension.

It's very simple. So you might be a little skeptical about how it works, how it works. But there are a lot of folks who find that it really helps lower their anxiety. So what you want to do is you want to close your eyes. You want to breathe in slowly to the count of seven and then exhale to the count of seven.

And you want to continue this slow breathing until you actually feel your body begin to relax. And now most folks find that it takes between two to four sequences of this. Now, once you start to feel your body relax, you want to open your eyes and give yourself a positive, very specific self-talk like, for example, you are going to.

Kick butt on this test, you studied hard, you're doing the best that you can. And so if you do all this, it'll only take you about in a minute, but it's well worth the time that it takes also during your exam, you know, feel free to move your body in the way that you can. So, you know, rolling your shoulders and relaxing.

I'm stretching out your legs. You know, if you're allowed to get up to go to the bathroom, see if you can do that. If you just feel a little bit antsy but take that minute to just relax your shoulders. Maybe unclench your jaw as well. Sometimes we do that. We don't even realize it. But at least getting some of that nervous energy out of your body.

The next tip really isn't easy, but see if you can try to do it and, and that's banishing all thoughts of how you think you, I might be doing on the exams either. That's how well you're doing or how poorly you're doing. Yeah. It's usually pretty hard to guess accurately and things keen about your score constantly is only going to increase your anxiety.

And the last tip that they have is, you know, you want to win approach your study and seriously, but you can also think of the test more as a game. And that your goal is to collect as many points as you can in the time available. Try not to think too much about a particularly difficult question. You know, if you're unsure of the answer, you can always guess and move on.

And you can remind yourself that you can miss several questions and still do well. Well that about wraps it up for this week's episode of wellbeing, Wednesdays. This again will likely be our last podcast of the semester as it is drawing to a close. I want to wish all of our students out there best of luck during their finals.

I believe in you. You've got this and we will catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays, and as always, thank you for listening.