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Testing anxiety can hamper educational and career goals, causing test takers to underperform on exams even if they have thorough knowledge of the subject area being evaluated. Overcoming testing anxiety can result in far better scores on work or college entry exams, among others, but defeating this problem takes discipline and focus. Coping techniques and strategies for alleviating testing anxiety should be part of any GMAT study plan or study plan for another major exam.

It’s easy to understand how tests can cause students and workers so much stress. In today’s data-driven society, tests and evaluations have a huge impact on our futures. School placement and career promotion often depend on how well test takers perform on exams, even when they have a strong record of accomplishment in the field or the classroom.

Worry and fear about performing well undermines students’ ability to focus and do well on tests. According to Health Central, between 40 and 60 percent of students report struggling with testing anxiety at some point in their academic career. Research finds that highly anxious test takers score, on average, about 12 percentile points lower than less anxious peers.

The good news is that with understanding of the problem and strategies to cope, students can overcome testing anxiety and master the tests they need to perform well on to advance in their academic or career goals.

What Is Testing Anxiety?

Test anxiety is a psychological condition that causes people to experience stress and discomfort when faced with the prospect of taking a test. The severity of testing anxiety can vary greatly. For some, it’s a completely manageable feeling of butterflies during a test, while, for others, it is debilitating.

Common symptoms and problems associated with test anxiety include:

    • Difficulties in studying for the test  – Worries about performance undermine students’ efforts to prepare for the exam. Even before opening their first ACT study guide or watching GMAT video tutorials, students feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start to begin to get ready for the test.
    • Doubts concerning performance, even if students put forth their best effort –  Many high achieving students – students who have high GPAs, who regularly make principals’ and deans’ lists, and who have leadership roles in student organizations – are plagued with doubt that they simply aren’t good enough and will perform poorly on exams.
    • Physical symptoms, such as sweating, headaches, fatigue, or an upset stomach –  Students’ worries about tests often manifest physically, further hampering their ability to do well on exams. Stomach upsets and headaches can rob students of their ability to focus, causing them to do poorly on exams.
    • Challenges in concentrating, paying attention to instructions, or comprehending test questions –  Anxiety related to tests can keep students from bringing their full mental processing power to bear on tests. Careful preparation plans and strategies can be easily forgotten when testing anxiety sets in during an exam.

Strategies for Overcoming Test Anxiety

Defeating testing anxiety and succeeding on exams takes effort, before and during exams. Consider the following techniques to help overcome doubt and worry about tests, and to successfully study:

    • Avoid excessive use of stimulants like caffeine – Caffeine and other stimulants can often work to exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. Students who pound Mountain Dew to stay awake cramming the night before a big test often find themselves too wired and jittery the next day to settle down and focus on the exam.
    • Don’t eat a big meal before the test – If you consume a large meal prior to an exam, your digestive system will be placing demands on your body for oxygen-rich blood that your brain needs to function at its peak. A light snack or meal a few hours prior to the test is your best option to avoid hunger and keep your energy levels up without impairing your ability to perform on the test.
    • Be comfortable – Wear clothes that make you feel relaxed. Avoid overdressing for the test or spending too much time worrying about what you’re going to wear prior to the test. Save your brain power for the exam.
    • Practice positive self-talk – Make reinforcing statements your mental mantra in the run-up to the test. Keep repeating them until they chase out any negative thoughts or ideas you may have concerning the exam.
    • Ignore distractions – Pay no attention to the sound of the ticking clock or how the woman in front of you twirls her hair or the guy beside you taps his pencil on the desk. Stay focused on your exam and only your exam.
    • Pause – If you find your tension level building during an exam, take a brief break. Breathe, run through some positive affirmations, stretch your arms, and roll your head before plunging back into the exam.
    • Begin preparing for the exam early – The earlier you start preparing for an exam, the more time you will have to master the material. Set aside time each day or every other day to focus on your upcoming test. A solid investment in preparation time will help you avoid the stress created by last-minute cramming for an exam.
    • Improve your memory skills – Thoroughly internalizing the test material will improve your confidence and keep you from panicking when taking the test. Create flash cards to help memorize facts, and use memory techniques such as associating certain words with facts or using mnemonic devices to keep track of information.
    • Find out if you have a learning disability – Problems like dyslexia or ADHD can be underlying causes of testing anxiety. If you suspect you may have one of these disabilities, get tested and find out for sure.

Test Anxiety & the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test, commonly known as the GMAT, is one of the most stressful tests many students will ever take. The three-and-a-half hour exam is used to gauge how successful students will be in Masters of Business Administration programs, and it is typically used by colleges and universities as an entrance exam for graduate school.

The GMAT is used by more than 2,100 universities and other institutions of higher learning in 112 nations as part of their selection criteria. In 2012-2013, more than 236,000 people took the GMAT. More than 90,000 were U.S. residents.

The GMAT is divided into four sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative and verbal. Test takers have half an hour for the analytical writing assessment, half an hour for the integrated reasoning section and 75 minutes each for the quantitative and verbal sections.

The pressure to perform on the GMAT, as well as the tight timespan test takers have to complete the exam make it highly stressful and test anxiety can severely hamper students’ chance of success on this important test.

Dominate the GMAT offers students a wealth of resources and tools they can use to prepare for the GMAT. Practice tests, tutorial videos and materials and articles full of practical advice available from Dominate the GMAT can form the core of a successful GMAT study plan. Visit Dominate the GMAT’s website today to participate in a free session offering advice on important math skills for the GMAT and to check out all the subject specific instructional opportunities provided.