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7 Weird but Effective Test Anxiety Busters

Even people who are well prepared for exams can suffer from test anxiety. Symptoms can include loss of self-confidence, restlessness, feelings of dread, impaired concentration, shortness of breath, tension in shoulders and neck, clenched jaw, gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, rending of clothes, temporarily wishing one had never been born, and sudden conversion either to a redemption-oriented religious cult or to existential nihilism.

Fortunately, there are several techniques you can use to alleviate test anxiety. Don’t rend your clothes or join a cult. Instead, the next time you feel anxious about a test…

  1. Chew gum during the test. Research at Baylor College of Medicine suggests it may help test performance and concentration, and, though the jury is still deliberating on this, it’s certainly worth the dollar or whatever it costs now for a stick of gum. Some folks with AD/HD–associated symptoms find that gum chewing is a kind of subtle fidgeting that helps them focus. I know a student who swears by this.

  2. When you are sitting at your desk, grip the bottom of the chair with your hands (making sure to watch out for wads of discarded gum from your fellow nervous test-takers). Pull up with your hands as you push down with the rest of your body, creating tension in your shoulders and arms. Hold for a couple of seconds, and then completely release. Do this a few times.

  3. With your chin slightly tucked to lengthen the back of your neck, gently roll your head, and move your jaw up and down and back and forth a few times.

  4. If you really start to freak out, put your pen down and do this eye exercise: without moving your head and with your eyes open, move your eyeballs as far up as you can, then as far down as you can. Repeat over and over at a fairly rapid and regular pace until you feel just a little woozy, and then close your eyes, take a deep breath, and rest for a few seconds. Repeat until you feel a sense of calm. You can also do this by looking ahead at the place where the wall meets the ceiling, then at the place where the floor meets the ceiling, and so on. This is a technique from EMDR that has a very calming effect on feelings of panic or anxiety.

  5. If you suddenly feel like your mind has gone blank, don’t fight it. Actually make your mind go blanker. Put your pen down, close your eyes, and focus on the darkness of nothing. Clear a space in your mind, like an empty room. Rest there for a few moments. When you open your eyes, if your mind is still blank, move on to another question, while saying to yourself  “An empty mind is clear and ready.” Trust that your subconscious is indeed working behind the scenes to help you retrieve the information you need while you go on to other questions.

  6. When you first sit down to take the test, spend a minute doing some deep breathing. Place one hand between the bottom of your ribcage and your belly button, and place the other hand on your back, opposite the first hand. Inhale deeply through your nose into both hands, and exhale fully through your mouth in a natural, slow rhythm. Feel each breath expand your stomach and your back with each inhalation, and deflate them with each exhalation. Notice how this feels. If you become anxious during the exam, your breathing will probably have become shallow, rapid, and located high in your chest. Just put your hands on your stomach and back and let your breath settle down again. One variation you can try is to hold the breath for a few seconds after each inhalation for as long as you feel comfortable doing so without straining at all, and then exhale again. You’ll feel your breath become stronger and your energy replenish.

  7. Repeat silently to yourself:

    I’m smart
    I’m capable
    I know more than I think I do.


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