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  • Stacey

Battling Test Anxiety

There is an increase in anxiety around final exams for high school students. There are different types of fears around taking multiple important tests in a short period of time. Some kids fear the workload preparing for exams, while other freeze up while they're actually taking the exams.

One of the juniors I work with was saying she's nervous for finals - we'll call her Jamie. Her fear was general and about the overwhelming feeling that she just has so much to do to prepare. I'm going to walk you through some helpful steps to ease these negative feelings:

1 - Acknowledge the nerves and fears. They are there to help you process and plan for what is coming.

2 - Invite an inner voice that can balance the anxiety.

For Jamie, her anxiety was fear of how she would get through the intense work she had to complete before her tests next week. She knows she is capable, and since she's done this before, she knows how intense the studying feels. But keeping the fear in check and in a logical context can help.

We all have an optimist and a pessimist within us. An optimist believes that good will prevail, while a pessimist assumes the worst outcome. When we are afraid, we tense up and it's easy for the negative voice to take over. It takes conscious effort to quell the negative voice and balance it with some positivity.

It may also help to put anxiety in perspective. Anxiety is an adaptive survival phenomenon. It mobilizes our energy to fight or flee a dangerous situation. Because we live in modern times, we aren't confronted with death (a ferocious predator) as often as our human predecessors. But our nervous system is still hard-wired to respond to threats in the same way. The less physical threats to our well-being in today's world can be interpreted by our brains as something to fear. Think logically through your fear and ask yourself what is the outcome you want - this will change your perspective. For Jamie, she wants to pass her exams to an extent that her semester grades will not decrease.

An inner voice can counter the fear that she won't accomplish her goal by telling Jamie's anxious self that she can do this. That if she works hard, makes a plan and sticks to it, she will succeed.

3 - Define the outcome you want. Instead of focusing on what you don't want to happen, focus on what you do want.

Jamie wants to study the right way in the right amount of time so that she can do well on finals while also feeling good physically. She fears lack of sleep and exhaustion. She fears the constant checklist that will nag at her for the week.

4 - Outline the actions that will make the desired outcome possible.

Jamie's main action to achieve her goals is to study. She can make a plan for what specifically will be involved in her studying. She can also manage her time, planning out when she will do each of those specific actions involved in studying.

Jamie's checklist ended up looking like a detailed list of what to do in studying for each of her finals. Her calendar had subject names listed in each day leading up to the exams. Her exam schedule was input as well. Seeing this laid out in front of you tells you that what you want is possible. Then you get to work. Remember, nothing good in life comes without a price. You have to put in the work, be disciplined, eliminate distractions, and believe that you will succeed.

5 - Monitor your progress and advocate for help.

Jamie will be working with her support system (resource center, teachers, parents, tutor, therapist) over the two weeks to make sure she is checking in with her checklist and schedule regularly. When she finds herself confused or overwhelmed, she will ask for help.

Happy studying! :)

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