Preparing For Exams

Posted by on May 11, 2015 in Anxiety | 0 comments

Preparing For Exams

(As seen in Anton Publications week of April 8 – 14, 2015)

The melting snow and vernal equinox may herald spring for some of us, but for many of our students Mother Nature’s machinations are eclipsed by common core assessments, Regents exams, and the SATs.  The summer may sparkle like a trophy for them, getting a little closer every day, but the heat is on now and the stress of these tests can make it difficult to focus at a time when they want to be just as sharp as their number 2 pencils.

It’s normal for kids to feel a little nervous before taking an important test but test anxiety is more a5than getting a little case of the jitters.  Some kids get so anxious that it affects their health, their attitude and their grades.  The American Test Anxiety Association estimates that up to 20 percent of students may be afflicted with severe test anxiety and an additional 18 percent may suffer from a more moderate form.  They report that students with high anxiety perform approximately 12 percentile points below their low anxiety peers (around six tenths of a letter grade).

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) stated that one of the common causes of test anxiety is improper preparation.  Feeling overwhelmed and lost before a meaningful test would make most of us apprehensive.  Many more students, however, endure an anxiety that has more to do with fear than how much they studied.  These fears may include:

  • Failure – Some children, especially those with low self-esteem, compare themselves to their peers and view their academic performance as a measure of their self-worth, acceptance and validation.
  • Repeating a Poor Test Performance – If a child performed poorly on a few exams he might believe that he is incapable and will inevitably fail.
  • Freezing Up – anxious test takers can simply freeze up during an exam, amplifying their anxiety and creating a negative behavior loop.

stressed-out-kidThere are quite a few ways we can help alleviate our child’s test anxiety starting with helping them prepare.  Review her subjects with her using regular study sessions, flash cards and practice tests.  Teach him test-taking techniques such as tackling tough multiple-choice questions by first eliminating obviously incorrect options.  If your child feels he has done all he can to be ready for a test he will likely feel more confident at test time.

Anxiety affects our ability to concentrate.  All these racing thoughts and concerns crowd out other thoughts and decrease the effectiveness of our working memory.  Instead of keeping the anxieties bottled up inside, students can purge them by writing them down on paper shortly before the exam.  Studies have shown that students who spent 10 minutes writing down their anxious thoughts and feelings about an upcoming exam immediately before taking the test significantly improved their test scores compared to control groups.

Color breathing is another stress reducing activity in which we meditate on a color that represents either what we want to feel or what we want to let go of in our life.  Blue, for example, is considered to be the color of relaxation and peace.  Yellow is considered to be the color for studying and concentrating.  Blue should be visualized if you need to clear your mind or when you are having trouble thinking clearly.  Yellow is believed to stimulate intellect and increase your ability to be objective.

We start by getting into a comfortable position and allowing ourselves to relax.  We strive to be mindful of breathing comfortably and deeply while keeping the rhythm of our breathing natural and relaxed.  We should exhale twice as long as we inhale (4:2 seconds).  We then imagine ourselves bathed in the color of our choice.  As we breathe, we imagine the color entering our lungs and spreading throughout our whole body.  Ten minutes of this meditation can make a significant difference in our anxiety level.

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