Tips on Taking a Test: How Can You Control Anxiety?
March 13 2014, by Martin Boroson
If you are one of the many students with anxiety problems, this article could give you the single most powerful of all tips on taking a test.
I’m guessing that you discovered this article because you got so overwhelmed with stress while studying that you cried out (into a search engine), “Help me study for a test!” Or maybe you landed here because it is time for you to finally deal with the question: “How can I control anxiety?”
The sad fact is that tests in school don’t just test what you know or even how smart you are—they test how good you are at taking tests. And this means that those people who suffer from “test anxiety” start out with a serious disadvantage.
The disadvantage begins with studying. Trying to study when you are overwhelmed by anxiety is just inefficient. When you’re anxious, you are just scrolling through the information without absorbing, understanding, storing or organizing it.
To study well, you have to be calm enough to absorb new information, discern what is important, and organize it effectively. But an anxious mind is like a saturated sponge—so full of stress that it can’t absorb anything at all. And as your studying becomes more and more ineffective, as the test approaches, you probably become even more anxious.
When it comes time to take the test, you need your mind to be calm and clear. You need to be able to see the big picture when needed and yet also have the ability to zoom in–with hard focus–when needed. You need to be calm enough to read the questions. You have to be confident that everything you managed to study is readily accessible in your mind. And you must have enough usable headspace to process that data effectively.
Being anxious sabotages all of that.
Therefore the best of all possible tips for taking a test has to be this:
Spend a bit less time studying and a bit more time overcoming your anxiety.
Make that your number one priority.
In other words, if you suffer from test anxiety, and you want better strategies for test taking, you will experience your biggest performance gain by dealing with your anxiety (rather than by studying more or harder).
Without having access to a calmer, more focused, state-of-mind, you are just spinning your wheels; but if you do have access to that state-of-mind, you can go anywhere (and do anything).
This leads me to believe that we should approach studying and test-taking more like we approach a judo match or any martial art—first we should take a moment to get ourselves into the ‘zone’. And the more training and experience we have had at this, the better. In other words, preparing to take a test is more about mental preparation than it is about studying or cramming.
It is only in recent years that we in the West are waking up to the possibilities of training our mental and emotional state—a practice that has long been part of Eastern traditions. The explosion of interest in meditation, mindfulness and martial arts means that we now have the tools and the cultural willingness to invest in developing high performance states-of-mind.
The good news is that you don’t need to develop the perfect peace of a Buddhist monk or the mystical focus of ninja warrior in order to benefit from the power of meditation to boost performance. You can learn to do it quickly and simply and will see a measurable change in your anxiety levels.
So, here’s my suggestion: The next time you are supposed to be studying but are actually freaking out, crying out in anguish to Siri, “Help me study for a test!,” take five minutes to watch my five-minute animated video, “How to Meditate in a Moment,” which has helped over one million people get started meditating and learn to mediate quickly.
This video teaches you the philosophy of One-Moment Meditation and guides you in a meditation exercise that really takes just one minute. Once you’ve learned how to do that, and practiced doing it deeper, you can adapt it for use anywhere.
Don’t worry if you don’t experience a total cessation of anxiety in a short meditation—for even if you manage to reduce your anxiety a little, that gives you a bit more mental space. And the more often you practice, the more effective it will be.
Imagine the possibilities: You could do a moment of meditation before studying and another one before you enter the examination hall, to put yourself in the best possible state-of-mind. You could even do a moment of meditation right in the middle of taking the test to refresh your focus, to remind yourself that it’s really all okay, or even to to reevaluate your strategies for test taking.
Wouldn’t that be a moment well spent?