Your hands start to sweat, your heart is beating out of your chest, you're having trouble breathing, and your mind is racing.... sound familiar? Test anxiety is a REAL thing, and it can be REALLY scary! Most importantly, it can affect your performance on some very high stakes tests. Knowing that the stakes are so high can only compound problems and create a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, and complete overwhelm.
You've heard a few of the common ways to handle your test anxiety: deep breathing, positive affirmations, positive imagery, exercise, adequate sleep, eating right. All of these are very important, I agree, but they miss the reason that test anxiety exists in the first place. It typically comes from the feeling that you will fail. This fear breeds a sense of overwhelm that can be down right impossible to stop. It can even trigger panic attacks! These are not fun! Believe me... been there, done that.
So in order to deal with the problem at the root, you need to feel confident in your preparation and BELIEVE that you have done what is within your control to properly prepare for your exam.
How do you do that you ask...
1. Do not procrastinate - I know life happens, but when a task is not enjoyable or difficult, we do all we can to avoid it. I speak from experience. The year I had to write my Master's thesis, I crocheted 24 scarves for friends and family. True story! Those scarves needed to be done more than my thesis :) So stop making excuses or finding other uses for your time.
2. Create a study schedule- Designate 1-2 hours a day (give yourself a day or two off each week), put it on your calendar, find a babysitter, set your reminders and alerts, and STICK TO IT. Plan on 4-6 weeks (maybe more if needed) of sticking to your schedule. Be sure to find a time that works well for you. I am an early bird by nature, so I could never stay up late and study. My brain was fried by then, so I would get up at 4:00 am and study until I had to start my day. It worked for me.
3. Listen to the experts- When it comes to the content of your exams, there are experts out there that can help you make efficient use of your time. This is why I structured my RICA Prep course the way I did. As I was helping teachers study, I realized, "They do not need to know ALL of this!" That led me to pairing it down to what was important and what would give test takers the biggest bang for their buck (and time). You don't need to memorize ALL THE THINGS. This realization in and of itself can help you with that overwhelmed feeling. - You're welcome ;)
4. Find a study buddy or group - Working with other people on a task can help to keep everyone accountable, even if it's just with check ins. Better yet, find someone who has passed and ask them to join your group. Before you start, make a pact that if you are shaky on any content, you will reach out for assistance. I have seen study buddies try to convince themselves they are correct, when in fact, it is the blind leading the blind. Don't fall into that trap. If you aren't sure, seek help.
5. Don't look for shortcuts to pass - Yes, others can share their testing experience with you, but if you study based off of their recollection, you will miss the forest for the trees. Know your content, know it well, and explain it to others to solidify your understanding. Past test takers are well-intentioned in their offer to give you "inside information" but resist! This could very easily take you in the wrong direction.
6. Practice the test - Take any practice tests you can and if there is writing involved (as in the RICA) for goodness sake, WRITE! Don't assume you know what it will feel like when you have multiple pieces of data that you have to sort through, analyze, and plan instruction. Better yet, share it with a knowledge person and get feedback. I often tell my course members, I can tell right away how prepared a candidate is based solely on their writing. This is a powerful indicator, so don't skip it.
7. Let it go - No. Not the song. After you have done everything within your power to prepare, it is outside of your control. Don't obsess over it. Give it to the universe (a bit woo woo, I know). Trust that you will pass when it is your time. Hopefully that time is now. Our path to a career in education is a journey with many lessons to learn. I always trust that my time will come as it is meant to be. When you walk out of that testing center, don't second guess yourself. Just be.... and breathe.
So there you have it! Preparation is the BEST medicine for test anxiety. Study what is necessary, but don't get caught up in the minutia of the content. Acknowledge that your feelings are real, and learn that they don't have to control the outcome of your exam. And for heaven's sake don't take up crocheting until after you pass.
Much love to you!