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Ouachita Stories


Beating the test anxiety bully

Test anxietyNovember 27, 2018 - Amber Goodrum

No one likes a bully, and this one is twisting your stomach in knots, splotching your neck with hives and leaving your palms dripping with sweat. You’ve about chewed your pencil in half trying to fight him off, but to no avail. The jerk won’t budge.

It’s exam day—and the test anxiety bully is breathing down your neck and fogging up your brain.

We would be hard-pressed to find a college student that hasn’t experienced some level of anxiety or nervousness prior to an exam; however, some students are more prone to suffering from the bully’s provocation than others.

So what exactly is test anxiety, and what in the world can be done about it?

One thing that is very important to understand is that test anxiety is, in no way, the same as simply being unprepared for a quiz or test. It would be normal and expected to feel a little queasy or uneasy going into an exam that you know you didn’t prepare for.

True test anxiety is experienced by students who are well-prepared and who have done everything that they know to do to study appropriately, yet they still succumb to feeling jittery or nauseous, to having sweaty palms or to staring blankly at the exam paper and barely remembering their own name to write at the top.

The good news is that test anxiety is a learned behavior, therefore it can be unlearned. There are steps that can be taken to fight through the anxiety and feel more comfortable and confident in testing situations.

Be prepared. There is no substitute for attending class, participating and being an active learner. Your professor might not have an attendance policy, and your roommate may take the most fabulous of notes to share with you, but if you aren’t physically in class and engaged, your preparedness decreases significantly. Stick to a proactive study regime and review material from each class daily. Cramming for hours in the early morning prior to an exam does not work

Get a good night’s sleep. Your mind and body don’t function well without sleep, period. If you have prepared well leading up to the exam, you will allow yourself to get to bed and rest the night before, which will then translate to being more comfortable, alert and focused during the test.

Eat what – and when – is normal for you. Your stomach is used to your routine. If your typical day starts with a granola bar and a large caramel macchiato, then don’t try to feed your body fried eggs and bacon on the day of your big exam. Keep things as normal as possible so that you can eliminate unnecessary bodily freak-outs.

Ready yourself as usual. Make sure that you keep everything as ordinary as possible. If you have a favorite pen or pencil, make sure it’s in your backpack before you leave your dorm room. On the other hand, don’t choose exam day to wear a brand new pair of jeans. No one needs the added stress of writing with a weird ink pen or their pants twisting up in the middle of an essay test.

Stay away from doomsday warriors. Discussing how hard they have heard an exam will be is a favorite conversation for some students. Put those earbuds in and don’t involve yourself in the negative, woeful chatter.

Jot down what you know. Once you have your exam, take a few moments before even scanning the questions to jot down words, brief notes, formulas or trigger phrases that you know that you know. You now have a reference point should you happen to get stuck, have a brain lapse or lose focus thanks to the guy tapping his pencil on the desk a few rows over.

Use a blank sheet of paper. If you have the permission of your professor (make sure you ask!), use a blank sheet of paper to cover up all parts of your test except the question that you are working on. This can help you feel less overwhelmed by not looking at the exam as a whole.

Give yourself a break. You’ve worked hard! You’ve prepared well! You’ve attended class, study groups and tutoring sessions. You’ve stayed prepared for classes by completing all readings and assignments. You’ve asked questions when you were unsure of material, and you’ve spent time daily reviewing key concepts. Now it is time to show what you know!

Test anxiety can be a big bully. However, there is no reason why you can’t send him running. You know what you know, and you can test well!


By Amber Goodrum, student success coordinator in Ouachita’s Academic Success Center. "Beating the test anxiety bully" was adapted from a Success Workshop. 

Please contact Ouachita’s Counseling Services should you experience any forms or symptoms of debilitating anxiety. Counseling Services is located on the ground floor of Evans Student Center, ESC suite 135, or you may call 870-245-5220.

If you have questions about best test taking practices or overcoming mild test anxiety, please contact the Academic Success Center and visit their website www.obu.edu/success for the Fall 2018 workshop schedule and online success workshops. The ASC is located in Lile Hall 122 or may be reached by phone at 870-245-5381.