Test time. Nervous?


He had been preparing for his stoichiometry test for three weeks. He’d done problems every night, learned the formulas thoroughly and met with his teacher. He didn’t feel the need to study the two nights before the test; he felt like he could ace it. When he arrived at the test, his classmates were arguing over formulas. He got confused.
For the first 15 minutes, he stared at his blank sheet of paper. He was sweating.

“And then you start thinking about how you’re not going to do well on the test, and you don’t think about what’s on the test,” he said. “And then you’re basically screwed.”

He, who will remain anonymous in this article, suffers from anxiety, which is an emotional and psychological issue that arises from a number of daily pressures. “The kids I am dealing with especially are growing up, and the influence of hormones on your system going through puberty in itself is disconcerting and can produce anxiety,” Middle School Counselor Kelley Reid said.

“On top of that they have school work, relationships with friends and [girlfriends and boyfriends] as well as parental issues and pressures. A lot of kids are just overwhelmed with their schedule. The amount of things they do in addition to their basic schoolwork with music, drama and sports is high level stuff.”

Reid said that the high standards account for much of the stress that causes cases of anxiety. “They want to do well and they are invested in their education,” he said. “Sometimes, though, students lose perspective and they see a particular test as being maybe more important than it really is in the grand scheme of things.”

The student has been practicing his test-taking strategies with the Specific Learning Differences (SLD) department, and realizes he needs to study far in advance for the slew of assessments that comes with being a junior. He has learned how to curb second-guessing when taking a test and now knows how to stay calm using the skills he has acquired over the years. He has been studying for the SAT for two years to make sure that he knows the information and techniques instinctively. “It isn’t really prepping that I have to do for the SAT. I just have to prep more and have the information planted in my head,” he said.

“The only way to counteract my anxiety is to just be as prepared as I possibly can. I have to learn information as if it is planted into my brain like a language. So, when the test comes, I don’t even have the ability to forget it because it’s just something that I know,” he said. “Anxiety then can’t do anything for you because you know your information just as well as speaking.”

High School Counselor Liane Thakur explained the symptoms of test anxiety. “Usually what’ll happen is that you’ll be hearing different voices – your own words – telling you something negative. ‘I can’t do this, this is too hard, I’m not prepared.’ So a lot of it is self-doubt talk, which then produces some of these physical signs and then you interpret these signs as being anxious, which can start a really vicious cycle.”

Reid said that learning how to deal with anxiety takes time. “You train your mind to stay focused on one thing at a time and not worry about other aspects of what is going on,” he said.

Thakur has designed a program for High School students that lasts for six weeks, working to help them deal with testing anxiety. “It’s just a twice-a-week meeting, working on some stress reduction skills, learning how to take tests in a better way,” she said. “We look at their study skills because sometimes the anxiety comes from not preparing in the right way.”

Thakur teaches the students she works with methods and strategies to cope with anxiety and has them apply these strategies to less stressful situations as practice for their tests. “If kids start feeling a low level of anxiety around test taking, that’s a great time to start working on it,” she said. “What you can do is start doing some visualization and deep breathing exercises, applying it to doing homework and on quizzes.”

Students are welcome in Thakur’s office anytime to receive guidance and help in their battle with anxiety.

“I think that some students try to power through it,” she said. “They just call themselves bad test takers and don’t realize that there are things that they could do.”

Despite the work he does and the strategies he uses, sometimes this student does not get the score on a test that he was hoping for, and ends up with a lower grade than his peers. “I’m known in my friends group to be quite the uneducated kid but it is sort of a type of encouragement – just a harder version of it. It’s annoying, but it makes you work harder because you don’t want to be known as that kid who is stupid.”

“Teachers just think of it as a lack of effort. [Teachers] believe that if you are not doing well in a class it is just because you are lazy, and that isn’t the case for me; it just means I have to work harder,” he said.