Test anxiety is a sub set of “performance anxiety”, and can be defined as an “ excessive and/or exaggerated worry over taking a test or fears about its consequences.” Many “good students” who perform well in class, study and prepare for the test often don’t perform up to what might otherwise be expected . Test Anxiety increases in direct correlation to the perceived importance of the exam. For some, even taking test preparation classes which focus on learning tricks to understand the questions, manage their time better and practice taking sample tests may not make a substantial difference. As a psychologist with a private practice in Boca Raton, Florida and as a former school psychologist, I have worked with many individuals for whom test preparation and skills building did not help performance because the critical element of their anxiety was not adequately addressed. Once test anxiety is triggered, it interferes with memory, concentration and decision making. Mistakes increases, time management goes out the door and the individual starts rushing or second guessing their responses. The triggers of the tension are almost always harmful attitudes that lead to negative thinking and physical tightness. Common harmful ideas commonly held consciously or unconsciously by test anxious individuals include beliefs like: “ If I don’t do well, I will never get a good job or career” “People will think less of me”, “I couldn’t stand disappointing my parents”, “A poor score proves how inadequate I am”, “I can’t stand the discomfort the anxiety around taking tests.”
Learning how to identify and replace these and related unhealthy beliefs with healthier and more useful ones is one of the main contributions I provide as a cognitive therapist. I also teach behavioral methods such as deep breathing to help manage and reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety such as blushing, hyperventilating and headaches. Test Anxiety is a common but very curable condition and cognitive behavioral therapy provides effective tools to help.
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