Tag: Test Anxiety

Confidence Can Overcome Test Anxiety



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). www.testsuccesscoach.com.




Test Anxiety? Stay Calm



Ben Bernstein, Ph.D.

         Here’s a myth: test anxiety is caused by one’s thinking.  In thirty years of coaching college student, I’ve heard many say, “I’m in a panic because I don’t think I’ll remember everything.” However, these are two separate phenomena: (1) you’re in a panic, and (2) you don’t think you’ll remember everything. The panic relates to what’s happening with your body. The negative thought-“I don’t think I’ll remember everything”-is what’s going on in your mind. While the two are connected, you need to deal with each one separately in order to achieve test success. In this post I’ll address how physical tension and bodily disturbance trigger or worsen test anxiety. I’ll also give you key study tips that will guide you to develop better study skills. If you practice, them you will calm down and move a big step toward getting the scores you deserve.

When I watch students take tests, I see quite a few of them hunching their shoulders, tensing their foreheads, tightening their  jaws, bobbing their legs up and down, wrapping their feet around their chairs, and chewing their pencils. I also see many of them frequently stopping their breath as they read exam questions. They have that deer-in-the-headlights look and everything freezes.

Freezing or tensing as you are taking a test will hurt you. A test is an ongoing, timed event. Imagine being in the middle of a basketball game and a teammate passes you the ball but you are too tense to catch it, run with it, or pass it. Athletes have to be loose and ready rather than tight and distracted. An athlete playing his or her top game is calm.

Taking a cue from sports psychology, a test taker can use the same three tools that athletes use to maintain that calm state. You don’t have to be defeated by stress.

The first tool is breathing.  When I ask students to take a deep breath they usually inflate their lungs and puff up their chests. This is a “fight or flight” breath.  The breath that will help you stay calm goes deeper. Place your hands on your belly, and as you inhale feel your belly gently push out.  Don’t force anything, just do it in a nice and easy way. Inhale and let your belly expand; exhale and let the air out. Do this three times. This will immediately reduce your stress level. While it may not erase your stress (remember, your mind and your spirit are also involved), it will go a long way in helping you stay calm. When you stop your breath your brain thinks you’re dying and your stress level goes off the charts.  Train yourself to keep your breath deep and steady throughout the test. I always advise students to write the word “Breathe” as a reminder on the top of the exam booklet or answer sheet. This is a powerful study technique as well.

The second tool is grounding. This involves simply feeling the chair and floor supporting you. While studying for an exam or taking one, you can get lost in your head and literally lose touch with where you are. Grounding helps you stay present.  Grounding also includes relaxing any tension in your body. Test stress can do weird things to your body. Your wrinkled brow or tense shoulders aren’t helping you answer questions. Let them go.

The third tool is sensing, which involves employing one of your senses to help you stay calm. During a test, it can be helpful to enlist your sense of touch. Feel the clothing on your body, feel the pencil in your hand, feel the weight of your arms on the desk.

As you can tell, the three tools for staying calm-breathing, grounding and sensing-are all designed to keep you present.  You know what they say at raffles: “You have to be present to win.” It’s the same with tests. Calm down and put yourself in the present. Then you can think, answer questions, say goodbye to stress, and have test success within your grasp.



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). www.testsuccesscoach.com.