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The Nuts & Bolts of Test Anxiety

by John Hankey

 According to the American Test Anxieties Association, at least 33% of students struggle with moderate to acute test anxiety. Physical tension is always a contributing factor to (if not the cause of) test anxiety: you cannot experience stress without tensing yourself up. Releasing this tension is the foundation for becoming a calmer test taker.

The Secret to Mindfulness: Progressive Relaxation

The ability to relax is a skill that you can learn, develop & improve at over time. It is also the core principle of mindfulness. The body scan meditation is a classic, trusted way to progressively relax and involves scanning your body from head to toe, inviting each part to relax. Many meditators believe that relaxing the body is a “warm-up” or secondary benefit to working with your mind. This is not the case. The truth is that the body scan is often the main focus for many silent, 10-day meditation retreats and one of the core concepts taught by the Buddha. Using a body scan audio is a great way to start so you can be supported in being able to feel your body more deeply. One body scan can be as long or as quick as you wish. 5-7 minutes is a common duration. Subsequent iterations of the body scan will help improve your ability to feel your body, release physical tension and sharpen your focus.

Your Subconscious Mind

Your subconscious mind is simply your body and how your body responds to where you put your attention. Close your eyes and imagine you are biting into a tart, juicy lemon. Make it real. Taste it. Ddi you notice that you started to salivate? That’s your subconscious mind.

Visualization for Behavioral Change

If imagining a juicy lemon makes you salivate, what will visualizing the testing scenario do to your body? You probably guessed it: your body will (subtly) tense up. This is actually a good thing because now you can focus on progressively relaxing during the visualization. Changing how you feel when imagining a situation will change how you feel when you next confront the situation in your life. In other words, combining visualization & progressive relaxation will pre-emptively reduce your test anxiety…before test day even arrives.

Mindful Test Taking

My company MindfulTestTaking.com offers a number of techniques & strategies to help students reduce test anxiety, but the fundamental concept is always the same: visualize & relax. It takes time, but with practice, you can eventually “see” yourself taking a test while keeping your body relaxed. Once you hit that level of mental mastery & somatic self-control, you are ready to walk in and simply take the test.

Words of Wisdom

If you have breaks during the test, practice the body scan meditation at this time. This will refresh and rejuvenate you, helping you sustain your energy and focus. Also, avoid exacerbating tension & stress during the test: furrowing your brow, white-knuckling your pen or the mouse etc. Bodily tension and a cloudy, racing mind are two sides of the exact same coin. The less tension you carry, the more clear your mind will be.