HomeanxietyLet’s Talk About Testing Anxiety

A woman's hand clenching a mechanical pencil over lined notebook paper. "Testing Anxiety" are superimposed on the top left corner of the image.

Ah, testing anxiety.

On Monday, I had a final exam.  I’ve been carrying a high grade, studied, and felt prepared, but I still couldn’t stop shaking.

I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.

I recited the one thing I had a hard time grasping as I studied under my breath: the meaning of the acronym CARS.

Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Sources. Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Sources. Credibility Accuracy, Reasonableness, Sources.

My heart pounded and my stomach churned.

Finally, the time came and as I sat at the computer, I took a few deep breaths.

Yep, that would be my testing anxiety. This time, it was directly related to my nemesis: multiple choice questions. That format is custom-made to trip up dyslexics. If I understand everything, know the answer, and triple check each question, there’s still a chance I marked something else.

Even though this is my first time back in school in over a decade, I remembered these sensations vividly. I was prepared. Beyond studying, I brought a small quartz wand with me.

A small quartz wand sitting on a dark blue notebook.

It’s designed to massage pressure points, but I’ve always found it comforting to hold. The rounded end is perfect to run anxious fingertips over. The ridges and point at the other end add texture to help my mind calm down.

I may not have an official diagnosis, but I get that sort of reaction before every graded test. It comes from early years of repeated failure. The saddest part is that it’s what schools that rely so heavily on tests is doing to today’s students. While tests do serve a purpose, over reliance on them causes far more harm than good.

How can you help someone cope with testing anxiety?
Different things work for different people, but here are some ideas that have worked for me.

Help Them Study
Help them study in their own way before the exam, do so. Things like mini-quizzes help, as does teaching the info to others. If I can teach someone else, I tend to pick up information quickly. It’s much easier to have someone else there to bounce information off of.

Limit Studying Time
You should study for at least a week in advance, but spending too much time studying is harmful. Instead, help your loved one take breaks. Distract them from the exam if they start showing signs of distress.

Help Prepare in Other Ways
The teacher for this class was supportive, and gave us the perfect tools and tips to study for her tests. As I waited, another teacher brought her students testing there stress balls. You can do similar things with your loved one. If they’re tactile, like I tend to be, make sure they have something to hold and fiddle around with. If they have a pre-test ritual, help them get ready for that. This is a personalized thing that’s not difficult to do.

After the Test
I like rewards after doing something that high stress. Since I had goodies to donate to a toy/book drive, I decided to check out a tea/coffee shop when I dropped them off. I’m glad I did, because now I have a set post-test/project reward set up. A lovely cup of coffee or tea that I don’t need to make myself. This sort of thing could come in the form of going out with your friend or just enjoying some down time together. Being able to look forward to something always helps me cope with anxiety.

Bear in mind, these are things that help me out. They may not help everyone, but they are good jumping off points. What are some ideas that help you?

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