Written by Steve Shotts, Director of Instruction, ETC Test Prep
Sweaty palms, a knot in the stomach, a sudden inability to comprehend the simplest sentence, a cloud of doom descending. Most people know these symptoms of anxiety first-hand through one experience or another – freezing up when called on by a teacher, botching a speech in front of a large audience, stage fright while performing in a play. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, the effects of anxiety can be debilitating.
Before proceeding, we must acknowledge that some anxiety before a test, or one of the public performances listed above, is actually quite normal. In fact, studies have recently shown that some anxiety is not only normal, but also quite beneficial. Anxiety is one’s natural reaction to a stressful situation. When a stressful situation arises and one is forced to perform, the body reacts in ways that are intended to heighten awareness, increase oxygen flow to the brain and body, and sharpen senses – all very positive reactions that will help one perform at their peak when the time is right. However, problems arise when the anxiety levels become so severe that they negatively impact one’s ability to concentrate and perform.
Approximately one-third of students experience severe anxiety during testing situations, a condition known as test anxiety. But as with the various forms of anxieties above, there are clear steps one can take to decrease test anxiety’s negative effects, both by reducing one’s likelihood of experiencing anxiety in the first place and by successfully coping with anxiety when it arises.
For many students the very thought of an upcoming test can trigger anxiety. This “pre-test anxiety” can be especially harmful, since it can interfere with your preparation for the test in the first place. Not only can anxiety decrease your ability to retain the information you learn while studying, the very fact that studying for the test is itself a source of anxiety makes you less likely to study to begin with. One who experiences pre-test anxiety should develop a clear, easy-to-follow study plan – and stick to it. Many students find it helpful to study with others since they can be a source of encouragement and support. This is why many students with pre-test anxiety benefit from test prep in a class setting.
Anxiety has three components – a bodily component, an emotional component, and a performative component. One way to think of these components is in terms of a complicated system of feedback connections. For example, in a situation that triggers anxiety one has bodily sensations of various types – butterflies in the stomach, weak or trembling legs, shortness of breath, etc. These sensations are accompanied by emotions of self-doubt, expressed in thoughts concerning past failure or the inability to master a particular skill, for instance. These bodily and emotional responses in turn negatively impact one’s ability to perform a wide range of tasks, including those involved in test taking. This inability to perform tasks that may even be routine under other circumstances then reinforces the negative bodily and emotional responses, resulting in a spiral of gloom and doom.
Psychologists have determined that successful approaches to reducing test anxiety address each of these components, either alone or in combination. Moreover, successful approaches to reducing test anxiety involve not only techniques for dealing with anxiety during the test, but also techniques for reducing one's anxiety response to the idea of taking the test itself. These techniques are not instant panaceas, but instead require practice to master. Developing techniques for reducing anxiety should be a standard part of your test preparation plan.
ETC Test Prep specializes in providing test preparation classes at an affordable price, and with the assurance of quality. ETC’s select staff of dedicated professionals work to ensure that each student reaches his or her testing goals.