Some anxiety before tests is useful, as it can help motivate a student to prepare for a test, and it can help the student remain careful during a test (Porcelli and Delgado, 2017). However, when anxiety becomes too great it can impair test performance. Some students become so nervous before a test that they cannot study effectively or become so agitated while taking a test that they cannot recall what they have learned or provide erroneous responses despite knowing the subject matter. When students experience severe test anxiety, they often expect to have repeated difficulty with test taking, which adds to their level of anxiety.
Some patients develop physical symptoms as a result of their test anxiety including sweating, rapid heartbeat, shaking, dry mouth, feeling faint, and nausea. Test anxiety can also cause patients to become depressed because they feel they cannot perform well in an academic setting.
Test anxiety may develop in students who are very demanding of themselves or are under pressure from their parents or other authority figures to perform well on a test. Some of these students become very worried that they will be unable to meet such expectations. Other students fail to prepare well for their tests and become anxious that this will become apparent as a result of taking a test.
Treatment for test anxiety should be aimed at the underlying cause of the anxiety. For example, students who demand perfection of themselves can be taught that a better strategy is to expect that they do very well rather than achieve a very difficult and often impossible goal (Spielberger, et al. 2015).
Students who do not prepare well can benefit from a discussion of how they might study more effectively.
As is the case for many psychological issues, sufficient sleep, good dietary habits, and regular exercise can also help reduce test anxiety. If permitted, it can be very helpful to take a break for a snack during a long test.
Hypnosis can be an especially useful tool in the treatment of test anxiety. In a hypnotic state, students can encourage themselves with positive self-talk such as, “I have studied well for this test, and I want to be able to show what I have learned,” or “I will be able to think clearly while taking the exam.”
While studying for a test, or during a test, students can calm themselves through use of hypnotic relaxation techniques. For example, during hypnosis they can imagine being in a calm place, which allows their mind and body to relax. The relaxation can be further enhanced with slow, deep breathing in which the student inhale through their noses and exhale through their mouths. They can then learn to trigger their relaxation response with a deep breath or making a gesture with their hands, such as unclenching a fist, which they can apply whenever they feel anxious.
Rehearsal for a test in hypnosis can be very helpful. During the days leading up to a test, students can imagine being in the test taking room, taking the test confidently, calming themselves as needed while taking the test, and how good they will feel once they have completed the test during which they performed well. Such mental rehearsal helps prepare their minds for success in that it counters the negative thinking process that might have led to the perpetuation of their test anxiety.
Hypnosis can help with test anxiety through application of positive thinking, relaxation, and mental rehearsal.
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Porcelli AJ, Delgado MR. Stress and decision making: effects on valuation, learning, and risk-taking. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2017;14:33-39. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.11.015
Spielberger, CD, Anton, WD, & Bedell, J. The nature and treatment of test anxiety. In M. Zuckerman & CD. Spielberger (Eds.), Emotions and Anxiety: New Concepts, Methods, and Applications. London: Psychology Press; 2015.