Test Anxiety in Teens

I remember well the sweaty palms, the instant headache and the nausea with extreme anxiety that I would experience when a teacher would put a test paper down on the desk in front of me. Thoughts of, “I know I’m going to fail,” and “How can I get out of this?” would flood my mind instantly. I could have stayed up all night studying and known the information frontwards and backwards but it wouldn’t matter. I would still flunk the tests.

One experience in particular, when I failed because of anxiety, was in the 5th grade. The teacher had us divided up into groups to memorize the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and told us that there would be a contest between groups at the end of the week and the winning table of students would all win a trip to to Washington D.C. to visit the White House. Well, I studied all week and had that paragraph down word for word and the end of the week came and time for me to get up in front of the class (this was an oral test by the way), to recite it… I couldn’t do it. I swear my brain froze because I couldn’t remember past the first line. Needless to say, my group didn’t win because of me and they let me know their disappointment in no uncertain terms. I was so bewildered and disappointed in myself.

It is a common issue among teens of freezing up when they are taking a test. They feel anxiety and the pressure of perfection being the only option. Wikipedia defines test anxiety somewhat as “a combination of feelings of worry, dread and self-depreciating thoughts that cause extreme stress, anxiety and discomfort before, during and/or after taking a test.”

You may be thinking, well who doesn’t feel anxiety when taking a test? Most people do. However, a small percentage, unfortunately, have such extreme anxiety when taking tests that it causes them to test poorly. More importantly, this percentage is within the age range of Teens.

Here are some steps that can be taken to help ease this anxiety and even at times bypass it:

1. Study smarter. Make an outline of the information you are studying. Your mind will organize it and remember it as a structured file instead of just a lot of jumbled words all mixed up in your head to pull up under pressure. Putting the outline in writing will also aid in memory retention.

2. Get a good night’s rest the night before. When your brain is tired, bringing information to your memory is more difficult. When it is well rested, information is more easily recalled.

3. Eat breakfast before you go to school. The brain is a muscle that requires good nutrition to produce fuel and the nutrients necessary to perform well. A brain that is starved is weak and useless.

4. Do some deep breathing right before the test. Inhaling deeply through your nose and then exhaling out your mouth will help to move oxygen to your brain and stimulate the nerves while helping to relax and calm you.

Know that a little anxiety taking tests is normal and will help to keep you focused. But if you still struggle with taking tests and have anxiety to the point of becoming sick and your memory freezing up on you, talk to your teacher and if need be your school counselor. Let them know of the difficulty you are having and ask if there are other options available for you to take tests differently. You could take them verbally if you do better that way, take them after school when you have more time to spend on them, or ask them if they know of another solution. Your teachers and counselors want you to succeed and will help you find solutions to make that happen. Who knows, taking tests could eventually become one of your greatest strength.

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