Stress, hysteria, midterms: how can you cope?

The tension in the room is so thick that it could be cut with a knife. Everyone has their books and notes spread out on their desks in a last minute effort to cram in any minute details that might pop up on a test and ruin any hope for a decent grade. Some may even be learning the material for the first time just seconds before the fateful paper is passed across the room. The call for books and notes to be put away is made and the painful ordeal of taking the test begins.

With spring break just one day away, many students are dealing with heavy loads of midterms and tests to prepare for, leaving no time to dream about sunny days at the beach. Instead, masses of students are finding themselves stressed out and overworked as they prepare for the slew of exams teachers always seem to throw out at the most inconvenient time.

“I do get stressed out over tests but usually just the ones in my harder classes,” sophomore Kaysie Mayfield said. “I just try to shut everything out and focus on my books.”

Why are students forced to deal with the biggest tests, like finals, right before a long break from school? Our minds are fixed on the long mornings and late nights ahead and the last thing we want to think about is a test. Getting a student to focus on a final the day before summer begins is a bit like trying to draw blood out of a piece of beef jerky.

“When I’m nervous about a test, I have to take a break when I’m studying for it,” freshman Stefanie Perez said. “Then during the test sometimes I blank out so I’ll skip that question and just come back to it later.”

But for many students, test anxiety is not something that shows up just for those big tests at the end of the year. Many students find themselves stressing uncontrollably before every test they encounter, no matter how unimportant or simple the exam may be.

“Preparing for tests and taking them is just harder for some people,” academic advisor Dr. Daphne Johnson said. “Students often don’t realize that they have so much tension and that they just need to relax.”

Many students make the common mistake of believing that they must be harder on themselves around test time in order to do better. Yet bombarding oneself with negative messages does just the reverse, according to Johnson. Instead of pushing too hard, students should focus on relaxing and replace negative messages with positive, encouraging ones instead.

“I try to teach students to self-monitor themselves for the symptoms of test anxiety,” Johnson said. “They need to relax to keep their system calm and focus on positive messages of ‘I can do this’ or ‘I know this stuff.’ Thinking negative thoughts of ‘I’m never going to get this’ only increase anxiety and bring on the physical symptoms of test anxiety.”

Nearly everyone has experienced it at one time. The shaking, the increased heart rate and the sudden rush of thoughts as you try to cram in an overload of information at once. These are all classic signs of test anxiety and a result of our fight or flight instinct.

“When a student stresses over a test, your brain is trying to pay attention to something that might hurt you,” Johnson said. “The shift of chemicals in your brain doesn’t allow you focus on the fine details that you need to remember for a test, like a math formula.”

Students who come to Johnson are taught how to deal with these physical impediments through relaxation techniques they can practice at home and implement during the test to calm their nerves. In order to focus on the minute details found on tests, Johnson first coaches students on how to recognize the symptoms of anxiety before a test. Next, she teaches them how to get quick relief from those symptoms and relax their body and mind so they can focus on remembering the information they need to know.

“Students usually stop coming after the third session because they’ve fixed the problem,” Johnson said. “The improvement is usually quite dramatic and pretty quick.”

One of the most common mistakes students make before coming to Johnson for help can be found in their study skills. Many students simply do not have good study skills, said Johnson. Improving study skills often fixes the problem immediately, allowing the student to take tests nearly stress free.

Another mistake students commonly make that leads to test anxiety is a lack of organization. Johnson says many students may just have too much going on and not enough organization to manage it.

“Some students just aren’t very organized,” Johnson said. “So I’ll help them get organized by doing things like starting a study calendar. That offers relief from the stress and brings down the anxiety level that makes it so hard to focus during a test.”

Despite the negative effects stress can have on the body, it can sometimes be a good thing. As long as students are able to manage the stress and use it to propel them rather than hold them back, stressing a little over a test is perfectly normal.

“As long has you have enough stress to do your best but not shut down, stress can be a good thing,” Johnson said.

Students who find themselves overly anxious before tests can make an appointment to meet with Johnson in the SAM Center in Academic Building 4 in room 210.

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