This article series aims to give students a framework to overcome problems with test taking anxiety. The previous post went into detail about some physical techniques that you can use to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress before a test. While deceptively simple, these are incredibly important to ensuring your success. Not getting proper sleep or exercise is a guaranteed way to bring down your performance. Physical techniques are helpful because they are easy to learn and a quick way to make some progress. Changing your mindset takes more time but is equally as important for fixing test taking problems in the long term.
It's important to emphasize again that none of these techniques are meant to replace hard work or studying. You will not get good grades high school or university without studying. But if you do pay attention in class, do your work, and study, then these techniques can help you get even better grades.
1. Engage With The Inner Voice In Your Head
Our brains are constantly filled with seemingly random thoughts which can make us feel happy and excited or stressed and fearful. Every human being is in a constant state of internal self dialogue. Successful people are able to pay attention to this dialogue and even manipulate it.
The first step to doing this is recognizing those voices. Most people's immediate reaction is to try to ignore negative voices. But that won't make them go away. Instead, make yourself more aware of them. What is your brain telling you? Why do you feel like you won't do well on your exam? Write all your negative thoughts down. Then, once you've recognized them, examine them. Are your fears justified? Is there anything you can do to improve the situation? By engaging with these thoughts you can gain control over them.
2. Focus On Your Strengths
Change your focus from your weaknesses to your strengths. What are your strengths? This can be a certain subject or something non-academic. Are you a good athlete? Are you an artist? Are you better than all your friends in a particular video game?
For example, if you are an exceptional basketball player, think deeply about how you got where you are today in basketball. How much do you practice every day? Do you have any pre-game rituals? Do you have a lucky pair of shoes? Now, if you struggle in math, try applying some of these same things to studying. Do your pre-game ritual before your test. Borrow things that work for you in other parts of your life.
3. Don't Judge Yourself
The worst thing that you can do is to apply negative labels to yourself. Don't let anyone, not even your parents or teachers, tell you that you are "bad at math" or "a procrastinator". No matter what anyone says or what your previous grades are, make a firm decision that you will not accept those labels. These labels are called "cognitive distortions" in psychology and have been proven to sabotage your performance. For example, do not tell yourself, "I can't get good grades on my Math Tests". You've already lost the battle if you've accepted this! Instead, change that statement to, "I haven't been able to get a good grade on my Math Test yet". Don't underestimate the power of reframing things. This tip can be taken to the next level when combined with the next technique.
4. Talk To Yourself in the Third Person
This technique is a sneaky way to convince your brain to get rid of its insecurities. When reframing negative inner thoughts, use the third person rather than the first person. For example, instead of saying, "I will get a good grade on my AP Biology midterm"
I would say,
"Ali will get a good grade on his AP Biology midterm".
This also applies to written dialogues with yourself or journals. When you switch to the third person, your brain recognizes these statements as established external realities rather than mere wishes on your part (that it can argue against with negative thoughts).
5. Personify Your Negative Thoughts
Personification is my absolute favorite technique. Personify the inner negative voice in your head. Imagine it to be a person or monster. Give it a name. Draw it on a piece of paper. Have fun with it. This might sound silly, but is actually an extremely popular psychological trick (because it works). Once this inner voice has a name, face, and backstory, engage with it.
You can even take this to the next level and have multiple characters for different types of negative thoughts in your head. For example, I visualize my anxiety as greedy, hairless, fish eating creature named Gollum. If my anxiety starts getting out of hand, I'll tell Gollum to shut up. And it works! Doubt me? Try it yourself.
These five techniques build on each other. Each is helpful by itself, but when combined they will make a world of difference. But just reading about them isn't enough. You need to take action. Start right now by writing down three negative thoughts that are giving you test taking anxiety. Walk through each technique with these thoughts.
In the final article, I will a few more practical steps to getting rid of test taking anxiety. Make sure to first practice creating a mindset of confidence and using the physical techniques from the previous article before moving to Part 3.