Coping With Test Anxiety

by Ruby Paarlberg

Most high schoolers know the suspenseful silence as a test is being handed out all too well. The silence continues until the test is over when everyone can breathe again. Exams are proctored in sterile environments amongst a sea of nail biting and fidgety students. It is difficult to remain calm and confident when the air around you is distressed. Test anxiety is a vicious epidemic that plagues teenagers. Not only are students expected to take tests in each of their academic classes in school, but they also need to take standardized tests like the SAT or the ACT.

In New York City, Math and English standardized state tests haunt children as young as eight years old. Controversial common core testing, that is graded on a scale of 1-4, starts in third grade and lasts until eighth. In addition to the required state tests, many eighth graders in the city also take the SHSAT, which is an entrance exam required for specialized public high schools. Curing this cycle of stress is nearly impossible because of how embedded it is in our current school culture. Once a child begins testing, they are in for the long, seemingly endless, haul.

Jenna Diamond, an eleventh grader, says that she gets anxious when taking the SATs because “there is so much pressure to do well.” Jenna is one of many high schoolers who feels this way about the many tests required for college acceptance. High expectations from parents and cut off scores for colleges only amplify the already unpleasant process of test taking. In addition to outside pressures to perform well, students often get shaken up because they think that their score is an indicator of their intelligence. This is certainly not the case, but the test environment can easily provoke these thoughts. As a result of pressures and anxiety, Jenna often feels “a sharp pain in the pit of [her] stomach” before she begins the SAT.

Even though students have to constantly endure the painful process of completing an exam, every test taker has their own way of managing their anxiety in the moment. Junior, Saniah Arnold, eases her test anxiety by spending “a lot of time studying on the days leading up to the test.” Preparing a lot for an exam makes her feel more confident while she takes the test. Other students take cold or hot showers the morning before the day of a big test, or some even bring a lucky pencil.

Another strategy that has been proven effective is to envision yourself succeeding on test day. Closing your eyes for two minutes and vividly imagining the testing environments can help mentally prepare you for the toll of the test. Some students also play their pump up songs in their heads before the start of the exam to get them ready and excited. Being in a good mental state during the test is often difficult to maintain, but nevertheless key to staying focused and potentially scoring well.

Although test taking is difficult, draining and generally discouraging, it is important to find strategies that ease test anxiety so that we can have the best chance at performing well.

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