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Conquering Test/Performance Anxiety

by Ryan Wang

You walk into your AP exam with sweat forming on your palms. Your heart beats faster and faster, as you barely listen to directions your test monitor seems to mumble in an inaudible tone. Everything is drowned out by the pounding in your chest. Sound familiar? That’s test anxiety. He has a close cousin by the name of performance anxiety. Both can be detrimental and could render months of training or studying worthless. As both a student and a chess player, I am all too familiar with test/performance anxiety. Read on to find out how to conquer these pesky barriers that stand between you and success. 

Causes of Test Anxiety

VeryWellMind, a highly credible mental health website, defines test anxiety as “a psychological condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety in testing situations.” This most often, though not always, leads to lower scores and performance. This can often be caused by a variety of reasons ranging from the simple fear of failure to more serious personality barriers such as perfectionism. Let’s get a better grasp on each case:  

  • Fear of Failure: A little pressure is healthy, but when you start to associate your self-worth with your test grades, you will find yourself living a stressful and miserable life 
  • Perfectionism: When expectations from either yourself or your parents are too high, it may be time to let them go. Numerous studies have shown that high expectations lead to high test anxiety (which I can personally relate to) 
  • Lack of Preparation: Procrastination feels nice until there are 5 minutes before a test, and you realized that you didn’t study 

Many causes of performance anxiety are similar. Too much pressure before a big event can make any athlete, even Olympians, spiral out of control and forget their muscle memory. Even worse, when you’re the favorite to win, added expectations along with heightened pressure can make situations even worse. If you haven’t been training your hardest, you may also find yourself doubting your abilities, adding to the anxiety.  

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

It’s normally pretty easy to determine if you have test anxiety or not. Remember that it is completely normal to feel a bit nervous before the test, and pressure to a certain point can be motivation. But if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have crossed the line from test jitters to test anxiety. Here are some symptoms: 

  • Physical symptoms: Excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, etc.  
  • Emotional symptoms: Thinking about the consequences of failure (extremely relatable), feeling stress and fear, blanking out, etc. 

Some of these symptoms are phycological, and some are physical. But all can be detrimental to performance. For physical symptoms, I’ve found that medication can sometimes help. For emotional symptoms, countering negative thoughts with positive ones are useful. Instead of contemplating your past failures and dreaming of all the things that could go wrong, replace those thoughts with visions of things working out, visions of the process that will make your goals a reality.  

Conquering Test Anxiety

Before a big test or event, make sure to do the following to reduce the effects of test anxiety.   

  • Don’t procrastinate: Instant gratification feels nice until the last minute. Don’t keep putting work off. Create a study planner and follow it with discipline. A useful method I like to use is the Pomodoro technique. 
  • Splurge in self-care: Get enough sleep! If you pull an all-nighter to study, you probably won’t do too well on the test the next day. Sleep-deprived, it is likely you will forget most of the things you crammed that night. It’s better to study a little but get sufficient sleep than to study a lot without sleep. Also, be sure to eat a good breakfast before. After all, it is the most important meal of the day. 
  • Take deep breaths: Whenever the symptoms of test anxiety start acting up, take deep breaths to help calm yourself down.  

After the test, clear your mind. There’s no point in worrying about your results. What’s done is done. Don’t ask around for answers, it only compounds the stress. Instead, forget about the test until you get your results back. You may be pleasantly surprised 😊. 

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