Eight Part Series: How to Deal With Test Anxiety


Part Six: Focus on the Positive


Relaxation is an important part of any anxiety reduction plan, but it only goes so far. The next step is to avoid (or at least reduce) those emotionally charged negative thoughts about the test that directly impact your ability to perform well on it. This, of course, is much easier said than done. And like the relaxation techniques discussed above, it requires concerted effort in the weeks before the test to be able to successfully replace the self-destructive, negative thoughts about the test with other (true!) thoughts that instead provide encouragement and build confidence.

One helpful technique is the “half empty/half full” game. For one entire week, write down all of the negative thoughts you have about the test in a long list. Then at the end of the week, next to each negative thought write a true, positive thought that concerns the same point. So for example, next to the negative thought “I never have time to finish a test section” write the positive thought “I only have to answer about two-thirds of the questions to get a good score.” From then on, whenever one of the destructive negative thoughts from your list creeps into your head focus on the helpful positive thought you have associated with it. With enough practice you will learn to automatically chase away your negative thoughts and replace them with the positive, constructive thoughts that you have associated with them instead.

A closely related technique involves imagining that you are taking the test, and that anxiety strikes. The goal is to practice your techniques for dealing with anxiety in this imaginative setting so that on test day you know how to effectively respond. For example, one would imagine taking a few deep breaths, recalling some relevant, true thought (“this problem is not that important; I can skip it if I want”), and resuming the test with minimal disruption.


Read Part Five: Remember to Relax

Read Part Seven: Performing

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