Many people experience some fear or nervousness when sitting down to take a test. This is a natural response to knowing your work is being evaluated. It can even help you do your best by giving you extra energy and heightening your attention. Test anxiety becomes a problem, though, when it interferes with your performance. Your mind going blank or an inability to concentrate will only hurt your score.
The best way to meet test anxiety head-on is of course to be prepared. Knowing how many hours you’ve spent mastering the material and being able to tell yourself that you’ve learned it inside and out will help you counter your fears with true confidence in your knowledge and abilities. But for some this isn’t enough to make that nervous edge go away, and so here are a few simple things you can add to your test prep routine.
1. Eat Healthy Before the Test
Choose fresh fruit or a salad on the day of the test. Vitamin C will help reduce stress hormones, so citrus, strawberries, and dark greens make good choices. Protein like turkey or chicken can also help you feel calm and ready. A cup of chamomile tea before you go to bed the night before the test may help you sleep better.
Many of the things you know you shouldn’t be eating anyway will make your anxiety worse, including processed and snack foods, foods made with white flour, red meat, anything fried, chocolate, and soda. Don’t have that extra cup of coffee in an attempt to wake up: drinking more caffeine than you’re used to can add to your stress. Sugar will boost your mood briefly, but then cause you to crash and interfere with your concentration.
It sounds too simple to work, but you may be surprised at how breathing deeply and intentionally can help you re-center. Sit up straight and slowly breathe in, paying attention to how the air is filling your lungs and abdomen. Hold for a few seconds, and then exhale, again slowly. Repeat until you calm down. You may also want to try breathing into your hands as they’re cupped over your mouth, or deeply breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Don’t force your breath but just observe it instead.
If this works for you, you may want to research other breathing exercises or meditation/mindfulness techniques to add to your stress-busting toolbox. More and more studies are showing the benefits of these practices.
3. Chew Gum During the Test
This sounds like a weird tip, but there’s real science behind it. Researchers in Australia found that chewing gum can alleviate stress, going beyond just distracting you to actually lowering stress hormones. Other studies in the UK and Germany have showed that chewing gum helps with memory retrieval. The US military has even distributed gum to troops to help them relieve tension and stay focused.
Why does this work? It may be that the chewing action and increased saliva help to improve blood flow and get more oxygen to the brain.
None of these tips will replace having actually done the work of learning the material, but they are extra tools that can help you calm your jitters and do your best.