Reducing Test Anxiety

Each year approximately 3 million students take the SAT. Standardized testing is the norm at every public school in the country due to the No Child Left Behind Act passed into law 12 years ago. Frequent high stakes testing has increased the pressure students and teachers feel to do well and test anxiety has become more prevalent than before. Anxiety can actually lead to poor performance, and can yield test results which are more a measure of the test taker's fear than of their knowledge of the subject.

Psychologists have developed a couple of procedures that have proved successful in reducing anxiety and improving test performance. Use these techniques to lower anxiety and free up brain power for working out the answers to the test.

Prepare for the test material. Review the material prior to the test. Memorize required facts and practice math procedures. Confidence levels are higher when the material being tested is readily recalled and performed. Allow several days to master the material. Cramming the night before is rarely as effective.

Practice the test. Become familiar with how the test will be administered and how the answers should be recorded. Doing so will lower your concerns about the testing method. Replicate the testing conditions as closely as possible and practice taking the test. Abide by the time limits and practice with previous exams. Books are available in the local library or search the internet on phrases like "practice SAT online" or "practice 5th grade standardized test" to find online resources. If the test will be taken on a computer, practice on the computer.

Write to decompress. A practice called "expressive writing" has been found to significantly improve students' test scores. Ten minutes before the exam, write your thoughts and feelings on a sheet of paper about taking the test. Writing about your worries has the effect of transferring those concerns from your mind to the paper, allowing you to concentrate on test questions. Another effective writing exercise is writing about something you value and describing why it matters to you.

Positive thinking does help. Reading an encouraging statement may help steady those who have prepared and just need a quick confidence booster.

Breathing and relaxation techniques. Spend a few minutes relaxing your body prior to walking into the test room. Concentrate on taking several deep breaths and letting them out slowly. One woman laughingly shared that her mother always told her to "Breathe through your nose!" whenever she was in a stressful situation. Another technique to lower the stress level is to tense and then relax groups of muscles in your legs, arms, and trunk.

Tests are important and students want to perform as well as they possibly can. Learning how to dissipate anxiety so you can focus on the actual material of the test will help you perform at your highest possible level.

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