Tips for Overcoming Test Anxiety

Text anxiety stock image courtesy psycom.net
Text anxiety stock image courtesy psycom.net

It is safe to assume that most of us have experienced nervousness before taking a test at some point in our lives. While having a case of nerves from time to time is normal and can actually help us to concentrate on the task at hand, those who suffer from test anxiety have a more challenging time focusing. The stress can interfere with the student’s test results and overall health.

I battle with test anxiety. I wasn’t always this way, but since returning to school in 2020, I’ve developed anxiety so severe before and during a test that it feels almost debilitating. No matter how hard I study the material, the moment the test opens up, I forget everything I’ve learned, especially when it comes to math. My mind goes blank, my heart races, I feel as if I am going to pass out, which causes me to panic even more. I certainly do not want to waste all the time and money I put into a class, only to have to do it all over again because of test anxiety. At this point, I am willing to do whatever it takes to overcome it.

Henry Ford College Counselor Imad Nouri is offering free virtual workshops to help reduce test anxiety. I attended the test anxiety workshop and was impressed with how much I learned about anxiety and the techniques to help reduce it. Breathing plays a major role in relaxation. Nouri said, “Emulating breathing exercises throughout the day helps change the neural pathways of how information is sent from the brain to the body. It slows the process down as opposed to the shallow type of breathing, which prevents us from being able to fully relax. Breathing is essential to the process of helping with test anxiety. It has to be practiced every day, just like if you played an instrument. In four or five weeks, you will notice subtle changes in how you react to emotional triggers. It’s not that you will not experience powerful emotions, but it will help you cope with them differently.”

One of the exercises that I found to be the most helpful to decompress was sitting up straight in a chair while closing my eyes. Breathe in through the nose, slowly counting in your head to four, hold your breath while counting to seven, and gradually exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. I immediately felt my heart rate slowing down after doing a few of the different breathing techniques.

It is important to note that in order to see results, the technique requires you to perform the breathing exercises throughout the day. Before you get out of bed first thing in the morning, make it a habit to start your breathing routine. This is not something where you attend a workshop class and are cured. In order to benefit from the exercises, you must put the work in.

The same can be said with schoolwork. We can study more effectively, so we are better prepared to take the tests. Like many other students, I find math to be the most difficult. There are so many formulas to remember, and it’s a subject I have no interest in, which makes it that much more challenging to do. As the old saying goes, math lost me when it brought the alphabet into the problem.

Professor Mary Rayhall has been teaching Mathematics at HFC for 24 years and shared some advice on how students can study more proficiently in math. Rayhall says, “To be more proficient in studying math, students should go through notes multiple times weekly, especially once the instructor taught a section. The student should rework the problems that the instructor used as examples with a pencil and paper and pay close attention to the directions. In addition, students are encouraged to use tutoring resources available, like office hours.”

Rayhall recommends that students “create index cards that have questions to learn specific concepts. On the back of each index card, write the answer. As for preparing for tests, the best recommendation would be to instruct students to create a practice exam using the lecture notes and a review sheet. The student should create three to five copies and create the answer sheet using the lecture notes. Once the student creates the practice exam, they should meet with the instructor and determine whether it is sufficient.”

Whether it is doing the breathing exercises or studying for your classes, both require a lot of practice to accomplish a successful outcome. Taking the time to dedicate to both can help in reducing test anxiety.

Addressing your anxiety is crucial in order to heal it. Chronic stress takes not only a toll on your mental health, but it attacks your physical health as well. If you struggle with test anxiety, the chances are that you also deal with stresses in other areas of your life. Thankfully there is help and hope.

Mental health no longer holds the stigmas as it once did. Society seems to embrace that taking care of our mental health is just as important as our physical health is. I would not have been comfortable speaking about my anxiety issues a decade ago. I would have feared that I would be looked at as crazy or weak. That is no longer the case. Nowadays, the people that cast judgment on those who seek mental health help are in the minority. Like most colleges throughout the nation, HFC has seen a surge of students seeking counseling to help deal with anxiety caused by the COVID pandemic. Nouri has seen a hundred percent increase in counseling sessions.

Nouri states, “Collectively what we do as a culture influenced that; for example, twenty years ago or so the United States military did not deal with PTSD. They did not want to give benefits to veterans who may have suffered from PTSD. It wasn’t that long ago that veterans affairs started a program to treat our soldiers with PTSD and started to give veterans benefits who suffer from it. If our military is on board that mental health is affecting their members, then there is definitely a shift in society.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, reach out to the HFC counseling department to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment by calling 313-845-9611 or emailing counseling@hfcc.edu.

To register for a Stop Anxiety Workshop, contact HFC Counselor Imad Nouri at inouri@hfcc.edu. You will be sent a Zoom link to attend. Workshops are scheduled every Friday, 10 a.m. - 11 a.m., until April 29.

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