Paris Andrew, TIP’s Director of Partnerships and Engagement, is here to help gifted students. She used to run the residential programming at TIP’s educational programs, and she is completing a PhD in related areas, so she knows what she’s talking about.
I have horrible test anxiety, and I don’t know how to deal with it. When I’m studying for quizzes and tests, I understand everything completely, but I blank out while I’m actually taking the assessment. For example, in math class our teacher gives us test reviews the day before a test. I always do them because I know how important they are. But on a recent quiz, I forgot everything I had studied and looked over so many times. I mixed up the formulas and forgot the key words needed for solving word problems. I got a bad grade on the assessment. What can I do to stop blanking out during a quiz or test?
Let me say this first: anyone who can assess and articulate a problem as well as you have is going to find success in life, regardless of how anxious a test might make them.
Does that help you with your test anxiety in the here and now? No.
Is it meant to serve as a reminder that you shouldn’t view any single test—or testing in general—as the be-all-end-all of intelligence, ability, or potential? Absolutely.
Years from now, long after high school, college, graduate school, and whatever other schooling you might end up pursuing, you’ll realize that you prove your mettle in “the real world” not by scoring well on a test, but by translating your knowledge and skills into practicable results. If you end up becoming a building contractor, for instance, the work doesn’t end once you’ve calculated the angle at which to cut a piece of wood. You actually have to cut the wood (and, presumably, attach it to another piece of wood securely!). Plus, something tells me there are plenty of successful brain surgeons who did poorly on a test or two in middle school or high school.
A lot of test anxiety arises from perfectly legitimate fears about possible consequences. For instance, some students practice poor time management and simply don’t set aside enough time to study. As a result, they go into the test anticipating failure and its attendant consequences—loss of privileges at home, loss of eligibility for school sports, loss of eligibility for more advanced courses. Time management doesn’t seem to be your problem, however. It sounds as though you do an admirable job of giving yourself time to absorb the material and learn the concepts. Nor does it sound as though you’ve reached the point of having legitimate fears about any of the serious consequences mentioned above.
On the other hand, some test anxiety arises from fears that are altogether irrational or unfounded. For instance, you might be blowing a test’s importance out of proportion, worrying that your reputation or your very identity are on the line every time a teacher says, “You may begin the test.” If you have any perfectionistic tendencies, they might be hindering your ability to let go of the irrational “need” to get every last thing right.
All that said, I take it that you’re a good student and that you’re motivated to keep it that way, so I want to try to give you some advice you can act on. After all, the practicable results you’re charged with producing as a student are in fact good test scores—for better or for worse. Try to get rid of any unfounded fears you might be feeling by practicing one or more of these tactics:
- When you study, take the time to understand the concepts (time well spent!) and let go of feeling the need to memorize every last formula and key word (time poorly spent!).
- Remind yourself of all the countless times you’ve gotten good grades. You’re taking a challenging test precisely because you’ve earned the right to do so. Your parents, your teachers, and the education system as a whole have decided that you belong in this particular class and that this particular material is appropriate for you. You’ve done well in the past, and there’s nothing preventing you from doing well in the present and future!
- Right before the test begins, try to let go of the anxiety taking up space in your brain by closing your eyes and visualizing having already completed the test. You’re writing down the final answer, you’re turning the test in, and you just know that you’ve aced it!
- Remind yourself that you’re only anxious because you care. You’re motivated to do well on the test. Turn the anxiety into something positive rather than inherently negative.
- If you feel your anxiety rising during a test, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly, and say to yourself, “I’ve got this.”
- If you’re feeling any physical indicators of anxiety—increased heart rate, tightness in your shoulders, etc.—take a moment to breathe deeply and roll your neck gently.
- During the test, don’t make guesses about how well or how poorly you’re doing. Concentrate on the question in front of you.
Diagnosing the root cause of the anxiety you’re encountering is hard. I encourage you to talk to a parent, guidance counselor, or teacher about what you’re feeling. A lot of good can come from a two-way conversation!
Have a question for Paris? Use our submission form to get the advice you need.