With finals fast approaching, I wanted to address the issue of test anxiety because tutoring can help students learn strategies to overcome test and school anxiety in general that will help them succeed far beyond the limitations of this type of anxiety.
Test anxiety is almost universal among students of all nationalities and ethnicities. In fact, it is unusual to find a student who doesn’t approach a big test without a high level of anxiety. Symptoms of test anxiety can include an upset stomach, headache, loss of focus, fear, irritability, anger and even depression. Emotional stress can greatly impact a student’s performance on tests and in school in general. Stress can inhibit students’ abilities to absorb, retain and recall information. It can be a vicious cycle as feelings such as frustration, fear, anger and anxiety cause the neural activity in the two branches of the autonomic nervous system to become disconnected. As a result, this negatively impacts the synchronized activity in the brain, disrupting our ability to think clearly.
Conversely, positive feelings and accomplishments can lead to increased harmony and synchronization in the brain and nervous system, which facilitates our ability to think more clearly. This is where tutoring comes in. Tutors can provide students with tools and strategies that build both emotional skills and healthy physical habits when preparing for a test can help them overcome test anxiety and the associated symptoms, while improving their ability to prepare for and perform on critical testing.
It’s important to help students identify what they are feeling and give them tools that will help them learn to manage emotions such as anxiety, self-doubt, anger or frustration. The proper physical habits enable students to have enough energy and stamina for their brain to do its job of thinking and analyzing for a sustained period of time.
Below are some tips from Heart Math that tutors can teach and help students practice
Tips for Students
Practice the neutral tool: When you have uncomfortable feelings about whether you will do well on the test, practice the neutral tool. It’s important to catch negative mind loops that reinforce self-doubt or uncomfortable feelings. Every time you catch a negative thought repeating itself, stop the loop and practice going to neutral. Start by focusing on the area around your heart. This helps to take the focus off the mind loop. Then breathe deeply. Breathe as if your breath is flowing in and out through the center of your chest. Breathe quietly and naturally, four-five seconds on the in-breath, and four-five seconds on the out-breath. While you’re breathing, try and find an attitude of calmness about the situation. Do this in the days leading up to the test, right before and during the test.
Address the what-if questions: A lot of times before we have to do something like take a test, much of the anxiety we feel is a build-up from negative “what-if’” thoughts. What if I fail, what if I can’t remember anything, or what if I run out of time. Try writing a what-if question that is positive and can help you take the big deal out of the situation and begin to see things in a different way. Examples of these kinds of questions are, “What if I can remember more than I think I can?” “What if I can feel calmer than I think I can?”
Think good thoughts: Science is showing that good feelings like appreciation can actually help your brain work better. When you feel nervous or anxious, try this. You can do it as many times as you need to or want to. Remember something that makes you feel good. Maybe it is your pet or how you felt when you got a big hug from your mom, or how you felt after a super fun day at the amusement park with your friends. After you remember how you felt, hold that feeling. Pretend you are holding it in your heart. Let yourself feel that feeling for 10-20 seconds or more. It’s important to let yourself really feel that good feeling all over again. Practice this tool right before the big test.
Get enough sleep: Big tests require a lot of energy and stamina to be able to focus for several hours. Make sure you get at least eight-10 hours of sleep the night before the test.
Have fun: Do something fun the night before to take your mind off the test, like see a movie, play a board game with your family or participate in a sports activity. That way your mind and emotions are more relaxed in the time leading up to the test.
Eat a hearty breakfast: The brain needs a lot of energy to maintain focus on a big test for several hours. Eat a hearty and healthy breakfast, including complex carbohydrates and protein to make your energy last as long as possible. Foods such as eggs, cereal and whole-wheat toast help energize your brain to think more clearly and much longer compared with the fast-disappearing bolt of energy from drinking a soda pop or eating a cookie for breakfast. For a snack food, bring simple foods such as peanut butter and crackers, cheese and crackers or a burrito to sustain energy until lunch.