Confidence Can Overcome Test Anxiety

March 29th, 2012



One of the worst things that can happen to you on a test is to be flooded by a tsunami of negativity about yourself. If you start thinking, “I can’t handle this,” the self-fulfilling prophecy will come true: you’ll give the wrong answer.

A good test will have items that are different from and more difficult than the ones you studied. If all the questions were easy and exactly what you expected, you wouldn’t have to think; you’d just memorize everything and then spit it out at test time.  Remember: a good exam will test your confidence.

“Confidence” is made up of two roots: “con,” which means “with,” and “fidence,” which means “faith,” “loyalty,” and “belief in.” When you’re self-confident you believe in yourself. And when the going gets rough–when you hit that tough test item–you stay loyal to yourself and you work through it as best you can. You don’t jump ship.

In performance terms, confidence has to do with what’s going on in your mind–one of the three key players of your “inner team” (the other two are your body and your spirit). Your mind is like your inner bleachers.  You want the fans to cheer you on, not turn against you.  But regaining confidence isn’t just cheerleading. It’s a careful, three-step process–one that athletes use regularly in sport psychology mind training.

Step one:  Close your eyes and imagine a mirror in front of you.

See in the mirror an image of your highest self–you at your best. Confide in the mirror. Tell it the negative sentence that’s running around in your head (“I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have what it takes”).

Step two: See the mirror respond. It says something accurate and positive about you in response to what you just said. “I know you’re capable” or “You’ve worked through difficult challenges before.”  Take in that message.

Step three: Envision yourself taking a series of small, manageable steps successfully to correct the negativity.

If you come to an item on a math test that looks, at first glance, too hard, you may think, “I’ll never get the right answer.” Immediately use the three steps. First,  confide in the mirror. Tell it the negative self-statement. Next, watch as the mirror reflects back an accurate, positive statement about you.  Finally, envision the small steps you can take.  These small steps might be (1) calm down with three deep breaths,

(2) reread the question slowly, (3) jot down what you know, (4) work through the answer step-by-step, and (5) eliminate wrong answers. Even if you really don’t know the answer, you’ll be in a better position to make the best guess possible and be able to continue with the next questions.

Why does this three-step process work?  Often we act like we’re confident when we’re really not. We think everyone else is confident, so we hide our self-negativity. This disconnect causes stress. It’s much better to identify the negative thought and turn it around. Then we can see that the way out of any problem is not to be Superman. He could “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We humans have to work ourselves, step by step, out of any challenge we are in.

One caution: you need to practice these tools while you study.  Then they will work for you at test time.  When your calculus assignment seems too complicated, you’re reviewing a historical period that’s filled with too many names, or you are setting up a science experiment that appears too daunting, practice the three-step process and regain your confidence. Then when test time rolls around, you’ll be ready. You’ll say, “Bring it on,”

rather than “Get me out of here.”


Ben Bernstein, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and performance coach, He is the author of Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test  (Spark Avenue Publishing, 2012).





One Response

  1. wonderful put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector don’t notice this.
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