The time is upon us again to talk about how to reduce test anxiety. End of the year papers, standardized tests, and exams are all coming at students quickly. This is making them feel more stressed out and overwhelmed than ever. Many of the college students that have come into our office this past week report how stressed out they are. We can see it in their brain performance graphs too. In this post I want to share easy ways that you can use immediately to reduce test anxiety.
Get Prepared for Tests Early to Reduce Test Anxiety.
If you want to reduce test anxiety, get prepared early. I know what you are thinking. This may feel impossible. If you struggle with ADHD or anxiety disorder you may need support to pull it off, but it is not impossible if you do it right. Here is how to do it.
Create time slots across your week dedicated to your test or exam preparation. Make the time blocks just long enough so that you will succeed at completing them. For example, work for twenty minutes if that is the longest you can go without getting tired or stressed. WRITE THEM DOWN. Write the time blocks in a planner or in your phone’s calendar. In my world, if it is not scheduled, it is not real. Schedule it. Now, do it.
Celebrate Small Wins.
Here is the real key to success. Once you have completed the time block, reward yourself with something you like. It can be electronic time or watching TV, a treat to eat or drink (I love celebratory Cappuccinos), or just a rest.
I love to reward myself with runs or walks outside. Once my work block is completed each morning I go for a run. Getting outside really is a motivator for me so it works. As a bonus, time outside and running are proven to help my brain feel good and recover from thinking. This prevents me from getting overly tired from thinking. It refreshes my brain. That is why I schedule my days in this fashion also. This way my brain recovers from my work time while getting exercise and being outside. A trifecta of sorts. As a rule of thumb, make your rest periods half as long as your work periods until you have completed the larger task.
How Do I Reduce Test Anxiety by Preparing Early?
Chunk It Down.
Anything that feels insurmountable, or too big, can be overcome by chunking it down into smaller pieces. When a big project is cut up into a bunch of smaller projects, success rates go up and anxiety goes down. For example, if you are writing a paper, use your first block to draft an outline.
Then reward yourself (remember this from step 1). In the next block of time write the first paragraph and then take a break. Rinse and repeat. Build up your time blocks to be longer and longer until you are working smoothly and getting prepared and feeling confident. Low Beta, the brain speed for calm-focus… here you come.
Why Should I Prepare for Tests Early?
Being prepared early helps you to stay relaxed, avoid cramming, and build confidence. These three factors have been shown to improve thinking and productivity. Let me show you how.
Preparing early and often helps your brain to get into and stay in a calm and focused state. This way as you study you are calmer and more focused. As you take your exam you be calmer and more focused. Calm-focus is achieved when your brain gets into Low Beta, medium-fast, brain speed. Your mind is sharp, but you still feel relaxed. That is where you want to be during studying, writing papers, and taking tests. When your brain stays relaxed during studying, you remember more. You understand what you are learning better. You can retain information better which will reduce test anxiety and set you up for testing success.
If you steadily prepare and stay relaxed and focused while doing so, you will not need to cram. Cramming only happens when you are under the gun and it puts your brain into the exact opposite state of Low Beta. It puts you first into High Beta, extra fast, brain speed (anxiety and stress mode) and then into Delta, extra slow, speed (overwhelmed and exhausted mode). When you are stressed out, overwhelmed, and fatigued you cannot learn or produce at top levels.
Preparing early and learning better because you are relaxed will all inherently make you more confident.
If you want to feel even more confident, do these things:
Eat healthy and often. Avoid junk food and eat food that nurtures your body.
Get lots of great sleep. Sleep is the number one factor that can improve brain performance.
Know the testing process. When a process is demystified it is easier. Know your test environment, how many questions, type of questions, length of the exam, etc. Know as much about it and you will become more confident through knowledge. As I always say, knowledge is power.
Dress for success. Where comfortable clothes that make you fee like a rock star. They do not have to be fancy. They must make you feel great. I love to where distressed jeans with a touch of sparkle, a tank, and a cardigan sweater with flip-flops. One might call it my uniform. Why? Because I feel comfortable yet look nice and feel confident.
What If I Can’t Use These Strategies to Reduce Test Anxiety?
As I said earlier, we can see the test anxiety in the brain performance graphs of our patients at Leigh Brain & Spine. We can also see how much Neurofeedback training is helping to reduce test anxiety and help the students go into their final exams with greater levels of focus and an increased feeling of calm. The students tell us how much Neurofeedback is helping them to stay in a good mental place during this stressful time of year.
How Do I Know How My Brain is Performing?
If you are not able to follow these tips because you are too anxious or just cannot stay focused long enough to implement them, then your brain might be stuck in the ADHD or Anxiety pattern. Honestly, you could be stuck in both (many people are). These patterns can be visualized on a qEEG Brain Map. You can see them with your own eyes. Once you know how your brain is operating, then you know what is needed to shift your brain out of distracted, stressed mode and into a calm and focused mode.
How Can I Make My Brain Work Better?
Neurofeedback is the most efficient way to create the shift you are looking for. The best part is you can see the results on your daily session brain performance graphs and match them up to your new relaxed and attentive feelings. My husband, Dr. Cosmas Leigh, takes the time in our office to review each person’s graph with them so they understand how Neurofeedback is working for them. Any Neurofeedback Expert will take the time with you.
What Else Can I Do to Reduce Test Anxiety?
Another important aspect of improving your brain and your life is learning how to keep your brain in the best mode. To help you do just that I have created an on-line workshop called Harness Your Brain. In Harness Your Brain you will learn how your brain works and how you can make it work better. There are modules dedicated to teach you tips, techniques, strategies, and more to keep your brain performing at its best. Visit the Harness Your Brain page to see all the details of how the workshop is structured and how it can help you.
For Neurofeedback Experts
Of course, you will consult your client’s qEEG Brain Map, but patterns to look for include:
Excessive Delta and Theta – create feelings of overwhelm, distraction, fatigue, brain fog, inattentiveness to task, lack of focus
Excessive High Beta – exacerbate feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, panic, confusion, rumination, hypervigilance
Prefrontal Cortex and Frontal Lobe involvement – When the pre- and frontal lobe are involved this impacts a person’s ability to get and stay organized, complete smaller pieces to a larger task and holds information in working memory. Rumination and constant worry can kick in by using too much Delta and High Beta in the mid-frontal area.
When we calm the brain by reducing excessive Delta, Theta, and High Beta, and rewarding production of mid frequency ranges such as Alpha, SMR (Sensorimotor Rhythm) or Low Beta people feel more relaxed, focused, and produce better mentally.