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Test Anxiety: Techniques to Help Students Perform Without Worries

written by: Janelle Martel • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 8/14/2012

Many students experience some level of anxiety prior to a big test, but students with test anxiety have a more difficult time. Physical symptoms can make it difficult to concentrate on the test, and emotional upset can skew performance, prompting a visit to the school counselor.

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    Educate Students About Test Anxiety

    Wondering how school counselors can assist students with test anxiety? It's very important for school counselors to educate students about test anxiety. This can take place in a lesson or during guidance class. Test anxiety can create some very scary feelings in students and they may be afraid to ask for help.

    School counselors should explain that test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, and it produces physical symptoms such as headache, upset stomach, sweaty palms, and a feeling of shakiness. Many thoughts go through a student's head at this time, such as "what if I don't know the answer?" or "what if I flunk?" Students may even go into the test feeling well-prepared and confident, but feel their mind goes blank during the tests.

    Educating students about test anxiety is one way that school counselors assist students with test anxiety. This can help students who are experiencing test anxiety to come forward for help. It will also help prevent test anxiety from developing in other students, especially if skills are taught for dealing with stress and how to study.

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    Teach Stress Management Techniques

    Students who suffer from test anxiety often haven't been taught successful stress management techniques, which is where a school counselor can assist. Good stress management techniques to teach include good breathing techniques, positive self-talk and other relaxation methods, such as art interventions.

    Positive self-talk can be taught a couple of different ways. First, students can walk into the test or exam while thinking encouraging things in their head. An example of this would be "I am well-prepared and have studied, so I will do fine." These thoughts, however, don't address the what-if worries that are running through the student's head. These thoughts can be responded to with other what if thoughts that have a positive spin. For example, the thought of "What if I don't know the answers?" could be answered with "What if I do know the answers?" This challenges the negative thoughts running through the student's head.

    As with any stress management technique, practice is key. Students should practice these techniques before the test, so they will feel confident in using them in a stressful situation.

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    Teach Effective Study Techniques

    Learning effective study techniques and skills can increase a student's confidence in test writing. The first thing that can be taught is for students to feel as though they are always prepared. This includes keeping well-written notes and reviewing them regularly, staying up to date on homework, and asking their teacher whenever they reach a concept that they are struggling with.

    When faced with an impending exam, students need to learn to create a schedule for themselves. This will mean that they have created a plan to study everyday for a short period of time in the same place. Studying for frequent short periods is more effective than marathon study sessions. Having a designated study area tells the brain that it is time to study and produces less distractions. Students should also take breaks and reward themselves for taking the time to study.

    While studying, it is good idea for students to practice techniques that will help them better absorb the information. These include re-writing notes, memorization techniques like mnemonics, and practice, such as through flash cards or practice tests

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    Look at the Big Picture

    In order for school counselors to know how to effectively assist students with test anxiety, it is important for them to maintain a view of the big picture. This includes making sure the students are getting adequate nutrition and sleep in order to function. Counselors should also be able to recognize when test anxiety is out of control and when more serious anxiety-related issues are present in order to intervene and provide the proper support.

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