What Advice Do School Counselors Give to Students Dealing With Test Anxiety?

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    Counselor Brief

    What Advice Do School Counselors Give to Students Dealing With Test Anxiety?

    In search of strategies to conquer test anxiety, we've gathered invaluable advice from nine education and psychology professionals. From the importance of replacing negative thoughts to ensuring adequate sleep before exams, these experts, including a Clinical and Criminal Psychologist and a School Counselor, offer their essential tips for students to navigate this common challenge.

    • Replace Negative Thoughts
    • Prioritize Self-Care and Support
    • Engage in Pre-Test Physical Activity
    • Meditate and Practice Gratitude
    • Embrace a Growth Mindset
    • Practice Relaxation Techniques
    • Consider Alternative Testing Environments
    • Address Underlying Personal Issues
    • Ensure Adequate Sleep Before Exams

    Replace Negative Thoughts

    Test anxiety is a common problem that many students face when preparing for exams. This type of anxiety can stem from various stressors, such as fear of failure, the pressure to perform exceptionally well, lack of preparation, or an underlying learning disability. Students' thoughts and beliefs about their performance on the test and the outcome can have a massive impact on their anxiety levels. As students become more aware of their negative thoughts and beliefs about their testing abilities, they can replace those thoughts with more empowering and positive ones. For example, instead of catastrophizing and thinking, 'I'm going to fail,' students can try to focus on the effort they have put into studying and tell themselves, 'I have studied, and I will do my best.' Similarly, instead of thinking, 'I'm terrible at this,' students can acknowledge that they have strengths and weaknesses and think, 'I understand some parts better than others, and I'll focus on what I know.'

    Dr. Jameca Woody Cooper
    Dr. Jameca Woody CooperClinical and Criminal Psychologist, Emergence Psychological Services/Dr. Jameca/

    Prioritize Self-Care and Support

    As a health psychologist, one crucial piece of advice I often offer to students dealing with test anxiety is to prioritize self-care. Remember, your mental and physical well-being significantly impact your ability to perform at your best. Following are a few workable pieces of advice:

    1. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness to calm your nerves before exams.

    2. Develop effective study habits and time management skills to feel more prepared and confident. Remember that perfection is not the goal; instead, focus on progress and learning from each experience.

    3. Lastly, seek support from trusted individuals, whether it's friends, family, or professionals, to help you navigate through challenging times and build resilience.

    By prioritizing self-care and seeking support, you can effectively manage test anxiety and thrive academically.

    Kavya Bontha
    Kavya BonthaPsychologist

    Engage in Pre-Test Physical Activity

    For students experiencing pre-test nerves, I recommend that they engage in physical activity shortly before the assessment. A quick stroll, light run, or even stretching can decrease stress-inducing hormones like cortisol and boost endorphins. This leads to a reduction in anxious or nervous feelings. Moreover, it can enhance mental clarity and focus, improving test performance.

    Dylan Callens
    Dylan CallensTeacher and Blogger, The Teachers' Blog

    Meditate and Practice Gratitude

    Students during tests and exams need a lot of reassurance and comfort. One piece of advice that really helped my students is to meditate and practice gratitude every day. This method has helped them manage their stress and anxiety. By giving thanks and showing gratitude every day, they were able to relax their minds before exams. Another piece of advice is to review the work and not overthink the result; that is, to think about the present and not stress about the outcome, which they often do.

    Areeba NazishTeacher, City Montessori School, Aliganj 1

    Embrace a Growth Mindset

    One of the most important lessons I teach at the start of the school year is how students can utilize their growth mindsets. Many students face anxiety, either because of self-inflicted stress to succeed or because of teachers' anxiety about students succeeding. As such, I emphasize to students from the get-go that tests are meant to demonstrate how much they have learned, and if they work hard throughout the school year, they can show their best selves through quantitative data. While the tests themselves might be considered stressful because of the stakes connected to them, I hope that we can change their attitude towards tests and assessments to show how much they have learned, rather than as an opportunity to fail.

    Conor SheaSchool Counselor, Stanley G. Falk School

    Practice Relaxation Techniques

    One piece of advice I've found crucial for students dealing with test anxiety is to practice relaxation techniques. This could include deep-breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization. Another helpful strategy in order to prepare for the test is to break down studying into smaller, manageable chunks rather than trying to cram everything in at once. Remember to approach tests with a positive mindset and focus on your preparation rather than worrying about the outcome. It's also important to reach out for support if you're feeling overwhelmed—whether it's talking to a teacher, counselor, or trusted friend. I guess that is more than one piece of advice :-)

    Jolene Hegarty
    Jolene HegartySchool Counselor, Kittatinny Regional High School

    Consider Alternative Testing Environments

    Test anxiety can be quite debilitating for some students and has to be treated with delicacy and a lot of prudence. For some students, it helps if they can take the test somewhere other than the classroom, somewhere more private (though still properly supervised, of course), with less noise and distractions. In addition to the issue of distractions, I think some students with test anxiety may feel embarrassed about their anxiety or intimidated by their less-anxious classmates, which adds to the stress of the situation, and so taking the test in a separate room also removes any elements of social anxiety. Sometimes, a student just needs to see themselves succeed on a few tests in order to build the self-confidence they need, and the anxiety can diminish fairly quickly if they get on an upward trajectory. Other times, it may last much longer. While it's not easy, it's true that in some cases, mere repetition over a period of years—with lots of teacher encouragement—will be the best way to resolve the issue.

    Walker Larson
    Walker LarsonLiterature Teacher and Freelance Writer

    Address Underlying Personal Issues

    Is test anxiety a symptom of a greater issue? When students are preoccupied by complicated family-system dynamics, financial concerns, or housing instability, it is difficult for them to focus on higher-level cognitive tasks. Help the student resolve these issues while simultaneously connecting them to the tutoring/learning center on campus.

    Christopher Moreland
    Christopher MorelandAcademic Advisor, UNCW

    Ensure Adequate Sleep Before Exams

    If a student is dealing with test anxiety, one of the most effective strategies to minimize these feelings is to get enough sleep! Although individuals may have a tendency to pull all-nighters to try to cram, this behavior is actually counterproductive to performing well on exams. During sleep, our brains are still at work, consolidating information necessary for long-term memory. I encourage students who are nervous about tests to get a full night's sleep, which will ultimately be beneficial for attentiveness, executive functioning, and memory come exam time.

    Taylor Chodash
    Taylor ChodashMental Health Counselor, LP