One of the most important factors in improving test grades is learning to manage your test stress levels. This week’s question is about just that:
It doesn’t matter how I study. When it comes to test time, I’m always a complete mess. You always talk about how that’s a major problem. That just kind of stresses me out more. My hands get clammy. My heart starts racing. I know it’s causing problems. I’m not doing bad in school but my tests scores are holding me back. I’ve always seen myself as just a bad test taker. How can I change that?
Test stress can be caused by a number of different problems. The biggest challenge is figuring out where that test stress is coming from.
If you can figure out where that stress is coming from then you can usually eliminate it with a few simple changes. Of course, you’ll still have some stress about tests but over time, after eliminating the major causes, you should see that stress reduce.
One thing to consider is whether or not that stress belongs there. If you haven’t learned the effective ways to prepare for a test then you should probably read 101 School Hacks For Better Grades & A Better Life. This blog has tons of idea to help you prepare for tests effectively. If you’re not preparing for tests effectively then you should be stressed.
If your test stress is coming from one of these other factors then you can solve your problem by working on them:
High Stress Studying
I know you mentioned it doesn’t matter how you study. This may not apply to you.
Many students make their studying routine high stress by making it long. To keep the study session going, many students think about the test. The test is the motivating factor in increasing their study time. Every time the student uses that excuse they increase the stresses related to that test. (If you study for a test 10-20 hours then, whether you say it or not, your brain will think it’s seriously important.)
This is usually rather simple to fix. Reduce the study routine dramatically and don’t worry too much about the test. This blog can help do that.
High Stress Everything
Some people lean towards anxiety in virtually every situation. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, they’ll find a way to stress themselves out about it. If you’re high stress about everything then, of course, something like a test would be worthy of plenty of stress. This is a rather large problem that there are plenty of potential solutions to. (You probably want to look for other sources to help.)
I would say I generally lean towards this category. My personal solution is to embrace my worrying to the point that all my big concerns tend to mellow out into a sea of mild concerns. For example, I may have a big test coming up but I also have a weird mole that looks like it should get checked out, I also think my eyes are getting worse, I also think my neighbor doesn’t like… The test? No… I’m not stressed about that. I got way better things to worry about. The diversity of problems makes it impossible to put too much emphasis on a single one. (I have no illusions that this is a great solution. It just works for me now.)
In the long term, stress is likely a health concern. If this is your issue then you may even consider talking to a professional about it.
Some students struggle at tests because they’re just stuck thinking they’re bad at tests. Yes. This definitely sounds like the asker of this question. Confidence is one of the most powerful test taking tools available. When a person has accepted that they’re just a bad test taker, they are way more likely to get stressed out for a test. That increased stress just reduces their score and helps solidify their belief in their bad ability to study. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
The good news about this problem is that you usually only need to break the cycle of low confidence once to change. (You may fall in and out of slumps but for the most part, you’ll be able to get out in a few tests.)
Most of the time, you can gain confidence by just faking it. Pretend that you’re a good test taker.
Instant Test Stress Reduction
During a test, remember that your test score is already decided. You either know the information that you need to know or you do not. Sure, it might bother you to know if you screwed up a test but that’s like getting upset that it’s raining outside. Your being upset isn’t going to change anything. You being upset is completely irrelevant to anything useful. In fact, being stressed during a test will only stress you out more.
There are times when stress can be productive. During a test is not one of those times.
When you enter the classroom, accept that your test score has already been decided. Now you just get to find out what it is.
There is no one size fits all solution to a problem as complicated as stress. The truth is, eventually, it comes back to the way you decide to look at the situation. As long as test taking is a big deal in your mind, you’re going to get stressed out about it. If that stress is reducing the grades you’re getting then you are probably overestimating the importance of those tests.
Your life likely has plenty of more important things for you to be stressing about. Stress is a tool that can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. You only can use it so much. Whenever you use it for something that isn’t important, you’re wasting it.
The body produces stress hormones to help. If a tiger suddenly jumped out from your monitor, your body would produce huge amounts of stress hormones. Those hormones would help you run like crazy. If you suddenly remember you have a big test tomorrow, your hormones will kick in and you’ll suddenly give up anything you’re doing to study.
These hormones can be used consciously and unconsciously. They can be used consciously in the same way you can control your focus. If you focus on how you’re bad at taking tests, or how the tests are hard, or you always forget everything then your body will get a huge load of stress hormones. Those hormones will be used unproductively.
If instead you stressed out only when it would actually help, there are countless opportunities to pleasantly surprise yourself.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Check out the archives, follow along, and read the books in the sidebar to learn it all.
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