Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top Ten Test Anxiety Strategies

Top Ten Test Anxiety Strategies

By Nanthalia Mcjamerson, Ph.D

Many strategies are available for dealing with test anxiety and stress. Whether you are searching traditional or contemporary resources on this subject, you will find a few fundamental or basic recommendations that you can immediately put into practice.

Those basics are summarized as The Top Ten List that follows:

10. Deep Breathing Techniques.

Beginning the list of anxiety-reducing strategies with "breathing" does not mean that it is least important of all strategies. Rather, deep breathing is presented first because it is the most overlooked and underestimated strategy for dealing with anxiety and stress. Because it is simple, we find it hard to believe it is powerful. Yet, virtually all experts, from classic to contemporary, include deep breathing on their lists. For example, in the classic Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Martha Davis, Elizabeth Eshelman, and Matthew McKay provide guidance and explain that good breathing habits can enhance your psychological as well as your physical well-being.

A breathing exercise that is easy to use is recommended by Iyanla Vanzant in her book Acts of Faith. Her suggestion is to "check in on your body" and take a few deep breaths. Vanzant claims that "with a simple breath you can release the stress and replace it with what you need. Turn anxiety into peace, anger into joy, tension into love, and fear into faith."

An additional benefit of deep breathing is the fact that it is under your control and thus you can engage in deep breathing whenever you desire to do so or deem it necessary-before, during and after a test or other stressful event. Additionally, breathing is FREE!

9. Talking/Expressing/Venting.

Another simple, but important, strategy for relieving anxiety is talking or venting. When you express the anxiety or fear, you remove the negative emotion from your body. Once you have relieved the tension, you can use your energy to focus on learning other helpful strategies and learning the content necessary to perform well on the task at hand. Find a good listener and, thereby, "clear your mind".

8. Pre-Test Preparation.

This technique is on "everybody's list" because a great deal of anxiety is produced by a fear of the unknown. When you become familiar with the material, the anxiety is reduced. First, find out what you need to learn. Second, make a study plan. Finally, take action by following your plan. For every new "gem" of information you acquire, and old "block" of stress will disappear.

7. Injecting Fun and Humor.

Yes, high-stakes testing is a serious matter; however, the more serious the situation is, the greater the need for comic relief. In fact, laughter has been scientifically researched and found to be beneficial for meeting a variety of challenges. Many advocates have brought humor to the forefront for healing as well as for stress management.

6. Social Support.

You can meet practically any challenge if you have a good social support system. Support systems can take many forms: friends, family, mentors, role models and others. There are no special qualifications for membership in your support network. For example, one teacher candidate identified her 12-year-old son as her greatest supporter and encourager. Also, when you study the lives of outstanding achievers, you discover that they had all types of "members" in their support networks.

5. Self Care 101.

What seems to be the discovery of this decade is the importance of taking care of self first instead of the tradition of taking care of self last. When preparing to meet a challenge such as the teacher licensure examination, people often say, "I have to give up everything to prepare for the test." Ironically, that is one of the worst solutions. It is not hard to imagine that good care of self would produce higher energy levels, higher motivation, greater endurance, a clearer mind, and better performance. Yet, this philosophy was not a part of our basic training for education or life. It is not too late; it is the perfect time as you prepare to meet this testing challenge.

Self-care can include exercise and nutrition. Also, engaging in or developing hobbies have been proven to be very effective. Consider window shopping or real shopping or building something. Take frequent five-minute mental vacations or a lunch "vacation" with friends on a weekly basis. Create your unique set of activities. Such strategies can build tremendous momentum for achieving your goals.

4. Renewal Activities.

If you become discouraged or your energy wanes, find strategies for renewing yourself. Seek resources and reserves of all kinds. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Effective People, calls this strategy "sharpening the saw". Like a sharp saw, according to Covey, people who take the time to renew themselves can return to their activities and challenges refreshed and ready to do their best. I have a friend in the fast-paced business world who recommends planning a variety of activities (before you need them) for what he calls "a stress-emergency kit".

3. Relaxation Techniques.

When your thoughts seem to get "blocked" while studying or during testing, it is often because of physical tension. This type of problem can be solved with relaxation techniques, which range from advanced yoga to simple wiggling of toes or playing with handsprings. Other methods include changing your perspective or expectations (reframing). Whatever techniques you choose, practice them ahead of time so that they will be readily available when you need to relax in order to succeed.

2. Positive Attitudes.

There is a very popular motto that indicates you should believe in yourself; however, it is not enough to simply say it. It is important to take actions to help you develop such an attitude. Affirmations and visualizations are effective elements of a productive positive attitude. Conduct a "treasure hunt" for those types of resources.

1. Celebrating Personal Strengths.

A key strategy for reducing test anxiety is reflecting on and celebrating all the personal strengths, talents, skills, and characteristics you possess. This is the self-worth factor, which is extremely important in developing confidence and endurance for meeting challenges and reaching goals. One method is taking an inventory of your positive qualities and achievements. Convert your list of qualities and achievements into a poem that is all about YOU.

Nanthalia W. McJamerson, Ph. D., is a counselor, poet and Professor of Education at Grambling State University. She and her husband are in a partnership to provide educational and empowerment workshops, motivational speaking, inspirational books and poetry prints. They are also the owners of a Black History radio station at http://www.hjmcradio.com

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: lynchlarrym@gmail.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent advice. This will be very useful for my students in China who put a heavy emphasis on tests. One other technique that some of my students have found helpful is visualization. I have them do deep breathing and relaxation techniques as you suggest, then go one step further and have them imagine what it would be like to succeed. I ask them to actually feel the feelings that go with success: How would it feel to speak English fluently? What would you feel as you easily understand the examiner, or the audio recording? Can you imagine the feeling at the end, when you know that you did your best?