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Dear Dish-It: Help Me Reduce Test Stress

Dear Dish it,

EQAO is coming up at the end of the month I'm stressing out. I'm great in school but I'm afraid it isn't enough. The teachers say the test is for what they did wrong. I really need some relaxing techniques. Write back soon.

Education drama queen

Dear EDQ,

Exam time is always stressful – no matter who you are or what grade you’re in. But there are some interesting facts out there about what causes test stress or anxiety that may help you understand why you are feeling this way.

7 Causes of Test Stress

  1. Test stress is a learned behavior
  2. The association of grades and personal worth cause test stress
  3. Test stress can come from a feeling of being out of control
  4. Test stress can be caused by a teacher embarrassing a student
  5. Having to take a test that you think is above your level of knowledge can be stressful
  6. Test stress can come from a feeling of being alienated from your family and friends due to poor grades
  7. Test stress can be caused by tests that are timed and the fear of not being able to finish the test, even if you know all the answers

Even thought these are causes that researchers and experts have identified and proven, most students believe test stress happens for other reasons or comes from other sources.

12 Myths Of Test Stress

  1. You’re born with test stress
  2. Test stress is a mental illness
  3. Test stress can’t be reduced – it just comes with the territory
  4. Any and all levels of test stress are bad
  5. All students who aren’t prepared have test stress
  6. Students with test stress can’t learn math
  7. Student who are prepared don’t get test stress
  8. Really smart students or students taking higher-level courses don’t have test stress
  9. Going to class and doing your homework will reduce and eliminate all test stress
  10. Being told to relax during a test will make you relaxed
  11. Doing nothing about test stress will make it go away
  12. Reducing test stress will guarantee better grades

REMEMBER: NONE OF THE ABOVE 12 MYTHS OF TEST STRESS ARE TRUE! In fact, the truth is the exact opposite of every one of the above myths.

There are ways to reduce test stress, both in the short term (i.e., right before a specific exam) and in the long term (i.e., for the rest of your education).

Short-Term Relaxation Techniques

The following suggestions on relaxation can help you control the negative emotions and all the worrying you do over having to take a test.

The Tensing & Differential Relaxation Method:

  1. Put your feet flat on the floor.
  2. With your hands, grab underneath the chair.
  3. Push down with your feet and pull up on your chair at the same time for about five seconds.
  4. Relax for five to 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat this procedure two or three times.
  6. Relax all your muscles except the ones that are actually used to take the test.

The Palming Method:

  1. Close and cover your eyes with the centers of the palms of your hands.
  2. Prevent your hands from touching your eyes by resting the lower parts of your palms on your cheekbones and placing your fingers on your forehead. Your eyeballs must not be touched, rubbed or handled in any way.
  3. Think of a real or fantasy relaxing scene. Mentally visualize the scene in your mind. Picture it as if you were actually there, looking at it through your own eyes.
  4. Visualize this relaxing scene for one or two minutes.

Deep Breathing:

  1. Sit straight up in your chair in a good posture position.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose.
  3. As you inhale, first fill up the lower section of your lings and work your way up to the upper part of your lungs.
  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
  6. Wait a few seconds and repeat the cycle.

Long-term Relaxation Technique

You can practice an exercise called the cue-controlled relaxation response technique to help reduce test stress before or during tests. The aim of this technique is for you to be able to relax yourself by yourself by repeating certain cue words to yourself. Basically, you relax by silently repeating certain cue words, like “I am relaxed,” to yourself. Eventually and with enough practice you’ll be able to instantly relax during tests.

Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk refers to the statements you make or the things you tell yourself before and during tests. It causes you to lose confidence and sometimes even give up completely on yourself and your abilities. You need to learn to change your negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Some examples of negative self-talk include:

  • “No matter what I do, I won’t pass the course.”
  • “I suck at math, so why should I even try?”
  • “I can’t remember the answers.”
  • “I’m going to fail this test.”
  • “I failed this course last term and I’m going to fail again this term.”

  • Turn this negative self-talk into positive self-talk, like the following examples:

  • “I failed this course last term, but since then I’ve acquired new skills and knowledge I can use to pass it this term.”
  • “I blanked out on the last test, but now I know how to reduce my level of stress.”
  • With hard work, I know I’m going to pass.”
  • “I prepared for this test and I’ll do the best I can.”
  • “I feel good about myself and my abilities. I’m not going to worry if I can’t answer one of the test questions. Instead, I’m going to use my time to check the answers I do know for careless mistakes.”
  • “If I don’t get the grade I want on this test, it’s not the end of the world.”

  • How To Stop Negative Self-Talk

    If you have trouble stopping the negative thoughts that form in your head and sabotage you during a test, there’s a thought-stopping technique you can use to overcome your worry and feel relaxed.

    To stop your negative thoughts during a test, silently shout to yourself (in your head): “STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT!” After your silent shout, either relax yourself or repeat on of the positive self-talk statements in your mind. You can repeat this as many times as you want during a test, or when you’re studying or doing homework.

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