Dear Dr. Expert,

I’m in grade 11 and I suffer from terrible test anxiety. I’ll be sitting in an exam and all of a sudden, my mind will go blank. The room feels like it is closing in and it becomes so difficult to catch my breath. It’s so frustrating because I can’t stop it. I do so well on my homework assignments and then when it comes to the tests I fail! My parents are always on my back saying I don’t study hard enough.   But it doesn’t matter how hard I study, I still can’t remember anything while writing the exam. Once I have handed it in – all the answers become so clear. It’s so frustrating – is there something I can do? 

Confused in Coquitlam

Dr. Expert: Dear Confused in Coquitlam, 

Test anxiety can be tricky to deal with, but there are definitely things you can do to tackle test anxiety head on! One of the best ways to reduce test anxiety is to make sure you are prepared for the exam, spacing out your study sessions so you aren’t cramming right before. Make sure you get a good night sleep and exercise in the days before the test to keep your stress levels down. It can also help to learn some basic test taking strategies – when we have a plan, we tend to feel more confident. For example, when you first get the test, be sure to look over the whole test first. Recognize that you will not know all the answers. Start with those questions that you know to build your confidence. Make sure you read the questions carefully. You might want to start with those worth more points.  You also need to change your thinking about the situation from unhelpful thoughts to helpful ones! For example, telling your self coping statements like “I just need to try my best” and “I know I can handle this because I’ve studied and I know my stuff, I just need to take a deep breath” can really help. Be kind to yourself and tell yourself helpful and positive things.  Instead of saying “I’m going to fail this for sure” you can say, “I can do this, one question at a time.” You also want to make sure you aren’t falling into any thinking traps and not thinking realistically about the situation. Challenge those negative thoughts and try to come up with one that is more balanced and realistic. For example, instead of thinking “I’m going to fail this science test and then fail the entire course” you can say to yourself, “although there is a small chance I might not pass the exam it doesn’t mean I won’t pass the class since I’ve done well on other assignments.” Calm breathing is also very helpful to relax your mind and body and can even be done in the moment without anyone knowing! The more your practice these strategies the better they’ll work when you need them.  Build your confidence now by doing an audio guided exercise, available here. Good luck!