As summer quickly fades to fall, the realization for students sets in that there’s no going back to easy breezy days. Instead, they’re struck with overpacked schedules consisting of homework-filled evenings, sports practices, student government meetings, and more. The pressure to achieve and succeed has never been higher, and with this pressure can come anxiety-fueled symptoms, especially during test taking. Making practicing mindfulness more important than ever.
What is Test Anxiety?
Many students experience test anxiety. In fact, research shows between 40 and 60 percent of students have test anxiety, and 26 percent of students indicate they almost always feel anxious before a test (1).
Side effects range from physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, heart palpitations, shaking, and sweating. Blanking is often a common side effect because students are so focused on the outcome that they feel paralyzed.
This form of anxiety is found in anyone from elementary school to college, and beyond. Developing the ability to keep test anxiety under control is a lifelong beneficial skill.
Let’s Take a Moment…
It’s at this point we suggest you to take a breath. Seriously, slowly take a deep inhale and hold for four seconds. Now exhale slowly for eight.
Feeling better, right?
You’ve just completed your first act of mindfulness. Here’s how a simple technique like the one we just did together will not only positively impact your student’s test taking abilities and overall life skills, but also yours!
1. Visualize a Successful Outcome
Often the root of test anxiety is fear. Fear drives the onslaught of negative thoughts like, “What if I can’t finish all of the questions in time? My classmates are moving faster than I am. How will I remember everything I studied?”
Your student isn’t alone in his/her fears. A key to releasing these fears is through guided visualization. It’s a contemplation exercise utilized by executives, athletes, and students alike. It’s the process by which you imagine the details of an event and your desired outcome.
Follow this simple step by step guide to wiping away fears when the negative thoughts seep in:
Step 1. Find a quiet space – The morning of a test take a few minutes to find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably and where there are no digital distractions.
Step 2. See yourself taking the test – Begin by imagining your morning routine, your drive to school, and sitting in your classroom with the test in front of you. At this point a little bit of anxiety might be stirring…
Step 3. Recognize the fear/anxiety – When thoughts of failure enter the mind, acknowledge its presence.
Step 4. Visualize how you want the test to go – Whatever is scary about the test taking process, flip the script. Close your eyes and visualize the knowledge you learned pouring onto the paper, every question being answered with ease.
Step 5. Visualize the test results – See yourself receiving the test back showing the results of all of your effort. How does that make you feel? Sit in that jubilant feeling and let it wash over your body.
Take this joyful feeling and visualization technique into your next examination, and experience the difference it will make!
2. Learn Mindfulness Breathing
The purpose of a mindfulness breathing technique is to replace fear with a sense of calm.
This technique is perfect to utilize either prior or in the midst of an exam. Learning how to control your breathe is a simple method to reduce stress and quell symptoms of anxiety.
Step 1: Find a comfortable seated position.
Step 2: Close your eyes.
Step 3: Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. You can also do a 2/4 ratio, whatever is most comfortable.
Step 4: Repeat this cycle for 1 to 3 minutes.
Step 5: After completing the breathing technique, bring your awareness to the current moment. Are you calm and ready for the task? Or are fearful thoughts returning? If negative thoughts return, then repeat the breathing exercise until your mind and body are fully present, calm, and ready for the task ahead.
3. Speak Affirmatively
Affirmations are a powerful coping strategy to counter anxiety with a strong positive mindset. They’re designed to provide an alternative way of thinking, and repeating positive phrases or a phrase that boosts confidence is essential for your mind to start thinking more positively.
Cater your affirmation to replace the negative thoughts that plague your mind before, during, and after test taking. For example, if your negative thought is “I’ll never be able to finish on time,” replace it with “I will easily finish this test in the time provided.”
Develop a mantra or daily affirmation that builds up your self-confidence. Repeat it to yourself every morning, before every test, or during any moment where you feel anxiousness brewing.
The benefits of cultivating affirmations include being able to distract your mind and focus instead on uplifting thoughts, believing in yourself, and fostering a mindful environment where you’re being kind and positive towards yourself.
By utilizing visualization, breathing, and affirmation techniques you’ll be on your way to a more successful and calm school year. Believe in your abilities and let this confidence guide you throughout your schooling and life. See your goal, breathe it in, and remind yourself that anything is achievable!
(1) “Test Taking Anxiety,” Date Unknown, Jeffrey E. Lazarus, MD. JeffLazarusMD.com