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TOEFL Tip #120: Test Taking Anxiety?

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on September 23, 2011

Test taking anxiety?

This is a guest post from Renee Hoekstra, Psy.D.

There are several reasons that people get anxious about test-taking, and here are a few things that you can do about it.

First of all, figure out what it is that makes you anxious. There are many reasons why people are anxious in testing situations, and the reasons vary. Some people have a hard time speaking openly and in public. Some people get really self-conscious about their accents and are afraid of saying the wrong thing when learning a new language. Some people are highly self-conscious and are afraid of being made fun of. The idea of taking a test in a different language can be intimidating.

Other people may get anxious in test taking conditions. People who have a history of poor academic performance may get anxious in any situation in which they are graded. Some people grew up in environments that were demanding or critical when they did not perform well. Competitive environments often foster the belief that a person’s worth is based on success. Anxiety can get in the way of a person’s ability concentrate, to organize information coherently, and to pay attention to something long enough to come up with the correct answer. Sometimes just being in a testing situation or classroom is enough to get people anxious.

Other people are afraid of the consequences of failure. If the consequences are very meaningful and limit options for the future, this makes sense. However, if one becomes overly focused on the consequences of failure this can “kidnap” attention that is needed to concentrate on the exam itself.

Here are a few ideas for handling test-taking anxiety:

1) Find out what you are afraid of: What is the “worst case” scenario? Share your “worst case scenario” with a trusted peer. Sometimes saying things out loud and talking openly about fear can help it to diminish. If thinking about your “worst case scenario” is enough to spike your anxiety, you may want to re-visit your scenario over and over again until your fear goes down. If you don’t know of anyone who can work with you on your “worst case scenario,” you may want to find a psychotherapist trained in exposure therapy (such as myself) to help you. The intended result of this exercise is to be able to imagine feared situations with less anxiety. When you can bring to mind the feared situations without your brain shutting down, you will have more control of your anxiety.

2) Develop a plan to cope with the worst case scenario. Figure out a Plan B. If there is a realistic chance that you will fail, accepting and tolerating the moment- your current life situation- will enable you to handle the situation better. This does not mean you have to accept failure or approve of your expectations of yourself. It does not mean that you have to give up, and it does not mean that other alternatives won’t make themselves available to you. It just means that you’ve got to get through a tough situation the best way that you can. A refusal to acknowledge and accept reality on the terms of reality can actually make your life worse. Remember that many successful people have failed. Tolerating the consequences of potential failure does not mean that your life is over. It just means you have to look for alternative paths.

3) Do everything you can to practice being in situations that make your anxiety go up. Usually, people avoid situations that make them anxious. This increases the belief that what they are avoiding is actually fearful. This increases anxiety. When forced to confront such feared situations, people are faced with flat out panic. Don’t let this be you. If being in a classroom makes you anxious, find a classroom and sit there until your anxiety goes down. If your anxiety doesn’t go down, then plan on a specific period of time- with a beginning and an end- to sit there. If going to a testing center makes you anxious, go sit in a testing center. If the click of a keyboard makes you anxious, record keyboard-clicking noises and listen to them over and over again. If the exam center allows you to take a practice test, by all means- take the practice test.

4) Know what is ahead of you. Don’t go into an exam “blind” because you were so busy avoiding taking the exam! Know all the components of the exam and know how long the exam will take. Know how many breaks you have. Know where the exam center is and anticipate problems with traffic or public transportation. Go to the exam center on a day before your exam and time how long it takes you. Talk to people who have taken the exam to get their impressions. Take practice exams and get feedback. Most anxiety can be decreased by being fully aware of- and planning for -anything that can go wrong on exam day. Get adequate sleep, take snacks to the test- taking center, eat well, don’t change your diet or make any big plans right before the exam. Stick to your schedule and your routine to the best of your ability. And be willing to accept that things don’t always go according to plan.


Categories: Guest Post,Test day,TOEFL Preparation

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