Hello, my name is Dr. Karen Grella and I’m here to present some information today on overcoming test anxiety. I will be speaking with you about strategies for reducing anxiety around exams. What is test anxiety? Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which a person experiences distress either before, during, or after an exam or any other assessment to such a degree that the anxiety causes poor performance or significantly interferes with normal learning. Many people experience some degree of stress and anxiety before, during exams. A little bit of nervousness can actually be helpful because that nervousness or anxiety can help you to be more mentally alert and ready to tackle the exam. Test anxiety when it is significant can actually impair a student’s learning and hurt test performance. That excessive fear can make it difficult to concentrate and you might struggle to recall the things that you've studied. This idea of blanking out that we'll talk about in a minute. What are some of the causes of test anxiety? Well, there can be a varying reasons why individuals experience test anxiety. It could be a lack of confidence. Just not feeling confident in their knowledge of the material. It could be that they're just not confident in themselves as a student. They're afraid to fail. That’s a big one. I mean, we all have a little bit of that when we go to sit down at an exam. But when it is excessive, it can really cause that test anxiety, negative thought processes. I’m going to fail.

I’m not going to pass this. This test is going to be too hard. Things like that that can also play into that students having test anxiety. Past experiences failing an exam is another one that is often a good cause of test anxiety. Not good in a good way but it can often be an actual realistic trigger for students to experience test anxiety because they've already failed some exams prior, and they're really worried about this next one. It could be very high stakes. Maybe they didn't pass the first two, and they need to pass third one in order to pass the class. That pressure from those past experiences can cause test anxiety. Pressure to do well from an outside source. Maybe someone has a parent or sibling, or guardian, or someone that’s really pressuring them to be successful on their exams. They want them to get As. Anything less than an A or a B is not acceptable and that pressure can cause test anxiety. Not being prepared is another one that’s a big one. That would go along with some of those poor test-taking strategies. If you're not prepared, and you haven't studied, and you know it, you may go in anxious.

What you have learned may also be difficult to retrieve. If you don't have good test-taking strategies, part of that is preparation. Making sure you're getting a good night’s sleep and having something to eat before tests, not going into a test at noon on an empty stomach, things like that. Then also knowing how to strategize when you're taking an exam, for example, do you cross out the ones that you know are definitely not the answer? Do you go back through and read through? Do you carefully read the questions to make sure that you're reading them correctly? Things like that.

What are some of the symptoms that individuals might experience if they have test anxiety? Well, there’s physical and emotional symptoms which really mimic generalized anxiety. But we're focusing today on something very specific and that’s anxiety around assessments, tests, exams, quizzes, things like that. Some of the physical symptoms that someone might experience, they might start sweating, they might be shaking, their heart might raise, they might have dry mouth or feel sick in their stomach, they might have trouble sleeping the night before a test. All of these symptoms can either happen prior to the start of an exam or while a person is sitting down to take the exam. Emotionally that can impact individuals because they might feel depressed. They might experience panic attack. They have that cause anxiety and other areas of their life. It can affect self-esteem. They might be angry or frustrated or feel hopeless.

I really like this graphic that’s on this slide. It shows a stick figure, how I see a test while taking it, and it’s just a jumbled mess. Just I’m overwhelmed. This is math, for example, oh my gosh, I don't remember how to do these problems. I don't know any of this. That’s probably what’s going through this person’s mind. The anxiety has gotten in the way. Then the person gets the test back, and they're like, wait a minute, I knew that. I totally knew that and that can happen a lot. That’s that blanking out that I mentioned earlier on. Many people with test anxiety will report that they blank out when they're starting to answer questions, even though they studied the information thoroughly, and they were sure they knew the answers to the questions. They still might blink out. Some of those cognitive-behavioral symptoms that individuals might experience would be fidgeting, wanting to avoid a test. I mean, there are some people that might not show up for a test, that negative self-talk I talked about earlier. Not able to concentrate on the test and just having racing thoughts, worrying about the test, worrying about the clock.

Realizing that you did put in the effort to study. That’s really fun illustrating to you because now you're at the test, and you're seeing it like this. The figure at the top of that graphic is seeing it just a big jumbled mess. We want to be able to handle the test anxiety. Because really, if you've prepared, and you've studied, and you knew the information ahead of time, you likely are experiencing test anxiety, which is then impacting your ability when you get to the test, and you have no idea what you're looking at. We really want to help control that test anxiety, so you're not blinking out.

Some auditory and visual triggers just be thinking about these as we go over this slide. What are some of those triggers that might happen in the classroom during an exam that could cause anxiety? Here we have another graphic where it says anxiety triggers, I was doing fine. Then boom, again, anxious again. Maybe you feel like you're going into the test, and you feel really good. Then you start developing that anxiety as soon as you get in the room. Then there’s auditory, so things that you hear and visual things that you see, these triggers that end up causing you to have anxiety during your exam. Think about some of those, and we're going to go over them.

What are some of those triggers? Well, there’s a variety of triggers, and usually, when I ask groups of students they will pretty much always give me what’s on this slide. The big one is students getting up and handing in their tests. That’s a big trigger for individuals that have test anxiety when they're in a classroom full of students. There’s this false sense of if a student is done very quickly, that they may know more than you do because it’s taking you longer and that is not necessarily true, that’s a myth. Not everybody that finishes the test first knows more. But there is something that’s unnerving to students when they see other students getting up and handing in their tests, and they start worrying, and it’s distracting. Sound of a ticking clock. If you know that you need that time to think and process through the clock can be a distraction. People turning the pages of their tests. Individuals with test anxiety are really maybe keying in on some of those things. It’s not that they're getting up in handing in the test, but maybe that they're turning the pages quickly, and you feel like they're going through it faster than you.

A door opening and closing. As people exit or if someone’s coming in, people zipping up their backpacks. They're done. Chair scraping against the floor when individuals get up, people talking outside the classroom. That’s another one where you can hear people. It’s a big distraction. Or if they're tapping their pencils and a near-empty classroom, if you're one of the last few, you may end up rushing through the end even if you have the time because you feel like you can't concentrate on the questions and your blanking out, and it’s causing you to have a lot of anxiety and you're near the end of the students that are in the class still taking the test. That can be another one that can cause some anxiety. How do we manage this? We know what it looks like, we know what can cause it, but how do we manage it? I think that’s the most important piece. Once you've recognized that this is something that you're experiencing, you're going to want to use some strategies to help to manage that ahead of time. First thing is when you study, you're going to want to seek out well-lit, quiet locations for studying. Here at Cuba, you can go to the Learning Commons on either the Auburn or campuses or other designated study areas on campus to help reduce distractions. So you want to be in a quiet place. That’s going to help you retain the information that you're studying. That’s the key. You want to make sure that what you're studying is able to stick so to speak. If you're able to review it in an area where there’s not a lot of distractions, you're more likely to be able to recall the information later.

Try not to cram. Everybody talks about pulling a quote all-nighter. That usually means that somebody has been up all night studying prior to an exam first thing the next morning. While that might help some individuals, a lot of times what that does is provides information overload. When the student goes to take the test, it’s just a lot of information they've tried to cram, and they're trying to just dump it so to speak. Maybe the way the questions are written is not lending itself to that and there’s a lot of content, and it’s too much. They get to the test, and they don't know anything that they've studied because it was all too much too soon, or maybe they were okay with the test they took at at that point the next morning. But if there’s a comprehensive test that covers the same material at the end of the semester, that cramming is not going to help, especially if you didn't do well first time.

Really trying to prepare for the exam ahead of time, try not to cram and take your time with studying. Avoid that last minute studying. If you do have good study strategies, and you've studied, and you've reviewed information multiple times, know that you're already prepared. Sometimes people will have studied all night and all day and maybe even that week several times, and they're really prepared, and then all of a sudden right before tests, they feel they need to go through their notes. That can actually cause anxiety. If you feel you're prepared, you may not need to do that 20 minutes before the test. Making sure you're sleeping and getting rest. When we don't sleep, when we're not rested, we can feel anxious and stressed. We want to make sure that we're controlling that before we go into an exam, if at all possible. Don't go into the exam on an empty stomach. If it’s first thing in the morning, maybe have a glass of juice or something like that. But if it’s noon, and you've had nothing to eat, your brain is saying, I need some nutrients so that I can help recall this information. If possible, certainly, there’s a lot of people that like coffee, or tea, or something like that. You don't want to overload yourself with coffee or caffeine, I should say, or sugar because that may also cause some anxiety. You're trying to control all these variables so that you can go in calm and show what you know to the best of your ability.

You certainly don't want to be rushing to get to an exam. If you can arrive a few minutes early, that’s perfect. You don't want to be there 45 minutes early waiting outside because if you're someone that gets anxious, that might cause more anxiety because now you're just sitting and thinking about it. You certainly don't want to be late however. If you can get there a few minutes early just to collect yourself, you know you're not late. You have a couple of minutes, take a couple of breaths, have some water and just relax. Meditation things like that can help you before you go into the test. One of the things that used to get me stressed out most of the time was when I would be waiting outside a test, and before we went in the classroom and I would hear people talking about some of the material. I might think, "Did I study that?" I don't remember that information. Now all of a sudden my anxiety is peaked. Really if you can try to avoid listening to others or discussing that material. While you're waiting maybe put your headphones or something like that or stand off to the side. You want to just go in as calm as possible. Just because they might have studied something and you don't remember, that doesn't mean that they're completely and totally prepared. We often try to compare ourselves to others. Sometimes it’s not helpful we just want to focus on ourselves and what we've studied and what we know. Again, I talked a little bit about meditation. You can also try some relaxation techniques.

Even if you're in a classroom, you can always just take a quick second to close your eyes, take deep breaths. You want to go into that exam with self-confidence and say, you know what, I studied. I did the best that I could. I know that I spent a lot of time on this material, a lot of time studying. I’m going into this with self-confidence. I’m going to do the best that I can. I see myself getting a good grade on this test. I’m visualizing that. This squirrel, I want to experience what’s on the screen right now. The squirrel that’s saying, yes, I passed the test. Visualize yourself reaching your goals. If my goal is to get through this program so that I can graduate, visualize yourself walking across the stage with a cap and gown. All of those things will help boost your confidence, reduce anxiety, and help you to feel like a more successful student. Some test-taking strategies that I talked about, just a little bit different from study strategies. Make sure that you're looking over your test to be sure you've answered every question. You don't want to hand in a test with a few questions blank. You can leave questions blank as long as you're good about going back and looking them over. I would say go through, do the ones you know, and then go back and rethink. Make sure you're reading all of the directions very, very carefully. Because you can get caught up in questions that may not, or questions and directions that you may not have read correctly. Then at that point, you're seeing the word not is in the question.

So which one of these is not? You didn't read it carefully and you thought it said which one of these is you didn't see the not. Now you're answering it the wrong way. If you do blank on a question, skip it and go back as I mentioned. Sometimes, well, there’s stuff in a test that will actually be triggered. You might get to another question. It might trigger you, wait a minute. They're asking about this and I remember studying this. Now I know the question I had left blank is this. You might get some triggers or clues within a test in the questions that help you with some other questions. Make sure you're not spending too much time on one question. Try not to panic when people start getting up to hand in their tests. As I said, just because someone’s done first, or second, or early does not mean that they always know all the answers. They might not know any of it and that’s why they're done. Be thinking about that.

I want to wrap up with a couple of points about whether or not you should change your answers on multiple choice exams. It’s really up to a student if they want to do that. I have done a little bit of research. It does look most people go with this trust your gut. No, never change your answers, trust your gut. But what I found was that there are actually some reasons why it might be beneficial to change your answers, for example, you may have found information in the exam that you didn't realize you had, you didn't remember from before. As I mentioned earlier, you're looking at a question. You're thinking I think it’s A, and then you get into Question 15 later on, and you read it, and you say, wait a minute, it’s not A because I remember studying this and now that I’m reading this question, this content is triggering my memory. I know I should go back and change it.

If you think that you should change it because you have more evidence, or you really thought it through, go ahead and change it if that’s what you're basing it on. If you're really not sure, and you don't know, you could go with your gut. But most of the time the reason why people don't change their answers is because they're really afraid of having it right, and changing it to the wrong as opposed to having it wrong and changing it to the right. It’s easier to say, I had A, I thought about changing it to B, but I didn't, and it is B. I got it wrong. But at least I didn't change my answer or I changed it from A to B, and it was A, then there’s that I’m kicking myself feeling and that’s what people are really worried about.

They had it and they lost it. But sometimes there are reasons to go ahead and make that change. Weigh that out. As you're thinking about multiple choice tests. Here’s some other little chart and other 10 tips to overcome anxiety. A lot of this is what we talked about, watching the clock, reading things carefully, being early for your tasks, getting a good night sleep positive attitude, and just jumping in and starting. Hopefully you've learned some information today that’s helped you to beat that test anxiety. Certainly I’m a work in progress and with good study strategies and good techniques to help keep yourself calm, and test-taking techniques, I think all of those things in combination can help students to go into a test not feeling like they're blinking out and everything they knew is gone. But saying, you know what? I can do this, I can get through this. I remember this information, I studied. I feel good about it. If you do have any other questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. I am the accessibility specialist on the Auburn and Fulton campuses. My information is here, you can e-mail me or give me a call. I’m happy to talk more about test anxiety with anyone if they're interested. I look forward to those conversations. Thank you so much.