I love tests. I kid you not…
My Brain: Bring it on…what do you got for me?!?! I bet I know what questions you’re going to ask…I’ll show you what I know, test! I ain’t sceered!! Red pen me…do your worst! (Gloria Gaynor pulsing through the disco balls in my eyes…)
So it is hard to understand many students who, like my own son, dry up like slugs in salt come test time. For some students it’s any test…for others…it’s a specific subject.and academic demands and tests are often the reason. According to the Mayo Clinic, a little nervousness before a test is normal and can help sharpen your mind and focus your attention. But with test anxiety, feelings of worry and self-doubt can interfere with your test-taking performance and make you miserable. Test anxiety can affect anyone, whether you’re a primary or secondary school student, a college student, or an employee who has to take tests for career advancement or certification.
Some of us may even be skeptical (who…me?!?!) but having a son with this problem is providing me with a window into the world of subject/test anxiety.
He brought home a math test recently that had bled to death…so covered in red ink. He missed every…EVERY…problem. And we’d studied for this one…real studying (to his dismay he has a mother who studies studying for a living)…he’d practiced…he knew the content…I just go blank as soon as the paper hits my desk…it’s like I can’t think of anything…it all just looks the same.
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard this, almost verbatim, for the last 15 years…the only thing I’d have to study is what beach has the softest sand.
So we sat down to work through the problems on the test…as I figured the first one…he grabbed the paper from me and said, “No, Mom…you do it like this,” and solved the problem, expertly, step-by-step, right before my very eyes!?!? WHAAAAAAAAAT?!?!
This morning I listened as a student explained similar math issues to her instructor, echoing what I’ve heard so many times, “I can’t do math…my brain doesn’t get it. I guess I’m just…not very smart…”
And the instructor replied, “Your attitude is really important. The attitude with which you approach math [or anything] is important.”
Believe me, I’m no Pollyanna…rainbows and butterflies won’t make me a physicist…there are hard things in life…and sometimes we all feel like we’re trapped in the ‘bang-head-here’ room…but the moment you believe you cannot, or worse, walk away, is the moment you will not. And walking away will, ultimately, leave you with nowhere left to go.
I wish I knew where the magic button was…but until I do…here are some of the suggestions for dealing with academic anxiety that (to his adolescent dismay) I also share with my son:
- Learn how to study efficiently – most students think they know. But most don’t.
- Establish a consistent pretest routine – routine breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds comfort, comfort eases stress/anxiety.
- Learn relaxation techniques – sounds a little Buddha chic´, but they help
- Eat, drink water, exercise, sleep – to solve all the world’s problems, right?
- Talk to your teacher – I know, I know…I wasn’t one of those students who loved hanging out with faculty after class or during office hours either – you don’t have to “hang out” but you do have to communicate…think of it like going to see a doctor…if you’re sick you can’t just go sit in the office, right? You have to talk to the doctor about what’s going on to get better. Always remember: LEARNING IS ESSENTIALLY AN EXCHANGE.
- Don’t ignore a learning disability – this is a tough one, right? Who wants a label? Who wants to feel like they’re on the clearance rack? We don’t have to play coy with words to start thinking about the human brain like…well, a snowflake. No two are the same…there is no “normal.” So figure out how your brain works and then work with it – not against it.
- GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FAIL…LOOK FORWARD TO FAILURE…PROCLAIM
IT FROM A WV HILLTOP…GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO LOOK FOOLISH OR SILLY…OR DUMB. There I said it. Value your own opinion – if you don’t know or understand – say so – without worrying about what other people know, or do, or say. More often than not, this demonstrates confidence. (This is a tough one, I know, but the more you do it…the easier it gets…the world doesn’t end…people who love you still love you…the sun rises…fish swim…you get it.)
- FINALLY: FIND SUPPORT. Stay connected. You’ll feel less alone, feeling less alone brings comfort, comfort is to anxiety what slime is to slugs. Though…you can’t just throw yourself on someone’s mercy…you’ve got to lead the charge…i.e. tell a tutor what you need: wait…wait…don’t tell me…I need to explain this to you; don’t tell me again, show me on the white board this time; okay give me one more problem just like that…okay, one more…and one more, and…