Do you freak out the night before your final exams?
Do you panic before you read a question?
Do you make silly mistakes or read incorrectly because you are anxious?
Or does your mind go completely blank right in the middle of your test?
Well, don’t worry. You are not alone.
It is quite common for students to get really anxious before, or during a test. Maybe it is because they take it too seriously, or maybe it is because they aren’t really confident about themselves. But students have been experiencing anxiety for as long as we have had exams.
It is quite a natural phenomenon, and it happens to millions of people every day; whether they are professionals attending an interview, politicians delivering a public speech, musicians and sportsmen playing in front of a sell-out crowd, or teenagers confessing their first love. Anxiety is a part of our life.
How Do I Know I’m Anxious?
Before we learn how to overcome anxiety, it’s imperative that we know how to identify whether you are anxious or not.
You will know you are anxious if you are:
- reading the same question over and over again
- unable to remember what a Pythagorean triplet is?
- thinking about your first kiss instead of solving the question
- staring at the computer screen for as long as you can remember because your mind goes blank
- comparing yourself with the topper in your class and feel low
- sweating like a person who works in a warehouse with no air conditioning
But then, anxiety doesn’t work the same way for everyone. While most people view anxiety as a performance inhibitor, a few successful people view it as a performance booster. As in, they use anxiety as a fuel to perform even better. So, let us delve a little deeper into how anyone can conquer test anxiety, and how you can bolster your performance on the test day, and improve your scores.
25 Practical Tips to Overcome GRE Test Anxiety
Given below are some of the tried and tested tips and techniques that you can follow if you want to avoid stress and anxiety on test day. There are several things that you can do, starting from today, that will help you curb the exam stress on the day you take your GRE. And of course, there are lots of things you can do when sit for the test, that will help you stay calm and composed.
But if your exam is only a few days away, and there really isn’t much you can do about it, then skip to the second part of this article. There you will find actionable strategies that you can use on test day, to relieve stress and anxiety.
What To Do Well Ahead In Time?
If your GRE is weeks away from now, consider yourself really lucky to be reading this now. Make sure you keep putting these tips into practice, and you will definitely go to the test center with your head held high.
1. Learn everything you can about the test and its format.
Never play a game that’s foreign to you. Always be well aware of everything that concerns the test. Be sure to check the format of the exam well in advance, and figure out how many questions you will be facing, and how much time you will have on hand. This is really important, because unless you know these two, it is really difficult to not only prepare yourself a solid study plan, but also to practice at home.
2. Train harder
Stop practicing the old way. Train yourself to solve new questions, and learn how to recognize problems that are twisted. Change the order of the topics you are studying, and mix things up. Make your prep random enough for you to adapt easily. Solve difficult practice questions and try to solve questions or topics that you never did before. If you have the time and the patience, create your own tests using new questions from different sources, books, or the internet.
3. Take several practice tests
While practice may or may not make you perfect, it certainly helps you gain loads of confidence. If you are scoring really well on practice tests, it will only do your confidence a world of good. Even if you cannot find any practice tests, you can easily design or create your own sample exams from the reading material you have. So, take several practice exams before the real deal, and be sure to time yourself to see if you are able to finish in the allotted time. But, remember that, when you take a practice test, you should make sure you are replicating the same testing conditions that you will have on test day. Otherwise, your scores may vary greatly.
Exercise is not only good for the body, but also for the mind. A sound mind in a sound body after all. Exercise regularly, but not to the point of exhaustion. Also, a lot of students report that meditation really helps improve concentration during the test. So, practice a few minutes of meditation every morning. Picture yourself taking your exam, and picture a really high score on the test. Visualize yourself succeeding. It’s not pseudoscience. It really works. Do this relaxation and visualization exercise each day in the days before the exam, and you will be a lot calmer during the test.
5. Analyze your mistakes
Do an error analysis of the errors that you make frequently. Doing this will help you consciously avoid repeating the same mistakes in the exam, and will also mentally prepare you for the test, thereby reducing the amount of stress you are under. Analyze your performance on practice tests, and notice where you usually falter; analyze your areas of weakness, and figure out your typical careless errors. Make a mental check list of these errors so you can be ready during the test.
6. Don’t compare
Always remember that you are in this battle alone. And that everyone fights a different battle. Never compare your scores with your friends or peers who are taking test with you. Peer pressure is one of the major reasons why thousands of students drop out of schools and colleges every year. Peer pressure leads to increased levels of anxiety, so it is in your best interest to avoid it. You have to understand that the GRE is percentile based examination and the percentiles keep on changing every day.
7. Train your body and mind
It is really important to get used to writing the GRE, well before the actual test. Make sure you start training your biological clock as per your GRE test timings. Make it a point to take practice tests in a fixed time window. For example, if your actual test timings are between 2 pm and 5 pm, then you must practice at least a few tests during this period. Doing this will help you get used to the timings, and your body won’t feel tired or sleepy during that time.
What To Do On The Test Day?
Sometimes it isn’t possible to be prepared for something like test anxiety. You may be confident to crack the test all the while, but as the date nears nigh, you will start feeling the jitters. Never mind, though. Here are some really useful tips that can help you overcome stress and anxiety on the test day. If you can follow these well-researched strategies, you too can ace your tests, all the while staying calm and relaxed.
8. Think of the test as a challenge
Don’t think of the test as something intimidating. Think of it as a challenge. Challenges are fun, and we take them all the time, with friends or family. So, think of the test as challenge your friends threw at you. Or maybe, if you are mentally tough, you can go a step ahead and really challenge your friend that you are going to get a certain score on the test. Only then, you will be take the test seriously, and study smarter. It isn’t particularly fun to get mocked by a friend, after all.
9. Stop being a perfectionist
Being a perfectionist doesn’t always work well. You shouldn’t expect to be able to work out each and every question on the test. Sometimes, it is not possible to solve difficult problems on a test when you don’t have much time on hand. And that’s completely fine. Don’t overstress yourself on the fact you couldn’t solve that one hard problem. Such things happen, especially if you have not practiced these kinds of problems ahead of time.
10. One question at a time
Always think of one question at a time. If you are solving a particular question, no matter how easy or hard it seems, focus all your energy and time on solving that question. Don’t bother about the questions to come, or the questions you have already solved. Sometimes, students tend to keep on thinking about that silly mistake that they made a few questions ago. Don’t bother. If you are writing a test like the GRE, you can always go back and change your answer options, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Concentrate on the present.
11. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation is a major reason why test takers are not able to give their 100% on test day. Make it a point to sleep for at least 7-8 hours every day, and never do all-nighters, even if you are a night-owl. If for any reason you had to pull an all-nighter, make sure you get enough sleep on the next day. But more importantly, you should compulsorily sleep for at least eight to nine hours, starting from two nights before your exam. This way, you won’t feel tired or sleep deprived during the test.
12. Eat properly
Not trying to sound like your mother, but eating proper food on the morning of your test really helps. Eating low fat protein (such as egg whites, milk, broiled chicken or fish) and some fresh fruits an hour or two before the exam will really keep your mind alert and attentive. Eating fatty foods will make you feel drowsy, and drinking caffeine or sugar rich drinks will lead to more anxiety.
13. Don’t discuss anything before the test
Always arrive at the test center on time. Many students make the mistake of coming too early, and then out of anxiety, start discussing about the test with their friends. This last minute discussion, more often than not, leads to nowhere, since it doesn’t help you much. Instead, these discussions can sometime affect you negatively, since you will be more tensed about the test. So, in order to avoid such a situation, you should plan accordingly, and arrive just on time so you can avoid discussing the exam with anyone.
14. Check your breath often
Rapid and shallow breathing leads to anxiety, since rapid breathing doesn’t allow enough time for the oxygen to reach the brain cells. So, even when you are taking the test, keep a check on your breathing, and try to remain calm, relaxed, and positive. Check your breathing often, and see if you are breathing too fast and too soon. Try to keep it regular and slow, by taking a few deep breaths every now and then.
15. Get rid of that earworm
Earworms are those songs that are always stuck in your head, especially when taking a test. It is very common and you are not alone; research shows that close to 90% of us have this phenomenon. While this is natural, earworms may sometimes be frustrating, especially if you are tackling a tough question or thinking very hard. So, earworms sometimes lead to increased levels of anxiety, which isn’t good at all. So, before you go into the test center, you will have to cleanse your brain off the song that’s stuck inside. Unhear It can help you get that song out of your head before you leave for the test center.
16. Use the scratch paper
It is really important to use the scratch paper effectively during any test, and more so during the GRE. Take down small notes whenever you encounter a tough question, especially something as hard as an RC question. Make a note of significant data or words in the question. Using the scratch paper will help you understand the questions carefully and will avoid misinterpreting what is being asked. That way, you will be a lot calmer during the test.
17. Do not spend too much time on any one question
When you spend too much time on one particular question, it will definitely lead to anxiety, because you are running out of time, and there are scores of questions left to be solved. So, it would be better if you can skip the harder ones, and mark them for later review. Once you think you have finished all the easier questions in a particular section, you can go back to the tougher ones later, since by then your confidence will have built up, and you won’t have as much anxiety.
18. Take advantage of calculators
You are given an on-screen calculator for the math section, and if you want to score well, you must definitely take full advantage of it. Maybe you are very fast at calculations, or maybe your friends call you a math genius, but when you sit for a test, you will have the added responsibility of managing time. So, it is better if you reduce the burden of calculating numbers, no matter how easy they might seem. Plus, since you are encouraged to use the calculator given, there is no point in trying to calculate on your own. Learn how to use the calculator well ahead of time, and take full advantage of it during the test. Also, calculators can be very useful for checking your answers.
19. Think positively
You might have heard the quote ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Studies have found that by just thinking positively, one can achieve the desired results, because their mind will be determined to get what they really want. Try to drive your train of thoughts towards a really positive direction. If need be, try giving yourself positive affirmations like “I can do it” or “I am worth it”, etc. But don’t do it loud enough for others to hear you.
20. Having to vs. wanting to
A small change in your attitude determines your mood during the test. Instead of saying “I have to take this test” say “I want to take this test, because it is my dream to study at Harvard.” Just a little change in your perception gives you the desired energy boost, and makes you feel empowered to take on the test with a smile.
Ironically, the more relaxed you are, the higher you score. Actually, studies show that students usually score 25 per cent higher when they are relaxed during the test, as opposed to when they are anxious and apprehensive.
22. Verify answers
Always have time to recheck all your answers. Sometimes even if you think you chose the right option, you might have made a mistake, thanks to your anxiety. So, when you finish the entire section, spend a minute or two going through each and every answer that you have chosen.
23. Proofread your essays
Once you finish writing your AWA essays, always be sure to proofread them, instead of simply trying to add more sentences to what you have already written. Always remember than a small but perfect essay will score higher than an imperfect but long essay.
24. Do not try to finish early
Sometimes, when you are in a hurry to finish the test early, you will make the mistake of forcing yourself out of the test center, thereby allowing room for mistakes. Stay at the test center for the entire time to finish the exam. Do not be bothered by those who leave. They often are not the ones who do the best.
25. Just leave!
When you finish the test, just leave the test center and go straight to your home. Do not start discussing the test then and there itself. Doing this will leave you disappointed, because sometimes you learn about the mistakes you made it the test. While learning from your mistakes is good, you should ideally not do that right after the test. Plus, who knows if your friends’ answers are right? Maybe you are right and they are wrong. So, all you can do is avoid discussing the test, and leave the test center. Go home, and reward yourself some drink for a job well done.
Now It’s Your Turn
So, those are a few things you can do to reduce or avoid anxiety on test day. If you can practice doing these at home, it would be a lot easier to remember and hence apply them during the test.
So what do you think? Do you find the tips useful? Do you have any other tips that we can add here? Tell us, and we’ll be happy to add them.
Have you ever faced test anxiety? How did you overcome the situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.