Your body temperature rises uncontrollably as sweat beads form at the back of your neck or you become so cold you suddenly start shaking and your heart races. Your mind blanks and you cannot concentrate. Some might think they are having a panic attack. In reality these are all symptoms of testing anxiety, a common condition among students.
Counselor Stephanie Oliver believes testing anxiety is a growing issue. “Testing anxiety is probably the number one problem that students come into my office and complain about. It needs to be addressed,” she said.
Some students complete all of their work, go to class, meet with teachers, and prepare as best as they can, but as soon as they sit down to take the test, their mind goes blank. Nicole Shishkhanova (’15) suffers from this exact symptom. “I study as much as possible for every test and pay attention in class, but when I am about to take a test I just have this overwhelming feeling that I did not prepare enough,” she said.
Ariel Calver (’16) also suffers from this overwhelming feeling. “I walk into a huge test thinking that I have not studied enough but then as soon as the test is over I realize that in reality I overstudied,” she said.
At times, the course material in Shishkhanova’s case, AP Environmental Studies can cause her so much stress that her hands begin to shake in anticipation of the test being handed out. “The moment I sit down to take the test is probably the most stressful part of the whole thing,” she said. In some cases Shishkanova’s amxiety has led to poor testing results. Paola Kalb (’15) suffers another physical symptom of testing anxiety. “The few minutes before the test when I am sitting down waiting to take it I cannot sit still and I am very scared for what the near future will hold,” she said.
Oliver believes testing anxiety could be fueled by external and internal pressures. “It comes from the expectation to perform perfectly in every academic subject, even if it is not the student’s strength. It becomes ‘testing anxiety’ when it inhibits a student to do well,” she said.
English Teacher Lindsay Fairweather has seen anxiety among her own students. “Students hold themselves to high standards and the thought that they could not fulfil these standards makes them doubt themselves,” she said.
Kalb concurs with this. “Eighth grade was the year I noticed the trend of sharing grades somewhat competitively. The fact that it is junior year only raises the intensity of this action,” she said.
Oliver knows that when testing anxiety is not given proper attention it can become a vicious cycle and prevent students from doing well. “It is scary for a student when he or she blanks out right before a test, so the next test they think to themselves, is that going to happen again? Am I going to get anxious again? And the cycle repeats itself,” she said.
Fairweather agrees that anxiety can prevent students from doing their best. “I have had my best students do badly on tests simply because they doubted themselves,” she said.
Fairweather finds it helpful to offer corrections on tests to alleviate unnecessary stress. “It is important that my students understand what they’re learning, but their resilience is what I look for. It is not the end of the world if they do not understand it the first time because maybe they had a bad day or did not get enough sleep,” she said.
Science Teacher David Partridge also notices testing anxiety among his students. “ASL is very competitive and students want to do their absolute best and go to prestigious universities, and sometimes this can be taken to an extreme,” he said.
However, Partridge has also seen students overcome their anxiety by preparing early. “I tell the student who is nervous to come see me so I can get to the root of the problem, and usually this helps he or she feel more confident before the test,”he said.
Partridge suggests that giving the most advance notice possible to a student before a test, even up to a few weeks is a way to manage the fear because “the student feels more confident if they have more time to master the material,” he said.
Students who suffer from testing anxiety are not alone; Oliver says it is one of the most common problems at ASL. There are many supportive people in places such as the faculty, Oliver, and even a student’s peers that will help students get through it. Oliver also knows techniques to help deal with the anxiety as students begin to experience anxiety.
However, if none of these techniques seem to relieve the anxiety, Oliver suggests going to see her or another professional for help in dealing with this problem. The first step toward alleviating testing anxiety is for students to realize that they have supportive people who will help them deal with the problem.
Calver herself sought professional help, specifically Oliver’s, and she benefited from the techniques that Oliver taught her. Through continuous use of these practices she saw an improvement. “Oliver’s advice really helped me get my anxiety under control during tests and because of that I do not get nearly as anxious for tests as I did in the beginning of the year,” she said.