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10 Brilliant Tips to Overcome Test Anxiety

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By Matt Vera BSN, R.N.

While preparing for a big test, be it the NCLEX or any nursing exam, you’ve spent countless hours studying and reviewing your notes. The day of the exam comes and you feel your heartbeat racing and your mind losing focus. Trying to ignore these cues, you sit down in front of your test and your mind goes blank!

Test anxiety exists and is a common problem among students. Anyone taking an exam experience some level of anxiety and see little improvement in their test scores despite their preparation. You may have heard in nursing school that there are four levels of anxiety: mild, moderate, severe, and panic.

Anxiety, depending on the level, can have positive or negative effects. Having mild anxiety can motivate and enhance creativity because at this level, you are alert and your perception is increased.

Moderate to panic levels of anxiety completely scatters your focus and you may not be able to pay attention as usual. You may feel at a loss about what to do because your awareness of your surroundings is significantly narrowed and during exams, you don’t want to be in this level!

When you’re stressed and anxious during the exam, your mind has a tendency to go completely blank. What you need to know is that information is there, you are just having difficulty recalling because of stress. Here are some tips on how to reduce or overcome test anxiety:

1. Get to know the material

First, you need to know the topic of the exam. Also, find out how many questions there would be on the test and the allotted time for it. Knowing as much as possible about can get you ready for the test.

As to any exam, learn your material thoroughly. Memorize what needs to be memorized and understand what needs to be understood.

2. Slow down and calm yourself

One time during a major exam, a classmate of mine got in the testing room late. He was all jittery and tensed and his anxiety heightened when he saw us already taking the exam. Luckily, our test administrator told him to sit down first and relax before giving out his exam sheets. Five minutes later, the proctor calmly asks if he was ready to take the test and he nodded. Despite the time lost, he was calmer and composed throughout the exam. He ended having a great score during that exam whereas the opposite could have happened if he rushed through it!

Rushing through a test can make you read the question and choices incorrectly, especially in those questions that are worded differently.

When the test starts, rather than immediately jumping to answer the questions, relax first to get your mind to work. Wait for the class to settle down before you start answering. Saying your mantra, citing a little prayer, and conscious breathing can help you calm yourself. Speaking of breathing…

3. Breathe

Make your body more relax by concentrating on your breathing, while you’re at it, throw yourself some positive affirmations.

4. Positive reinforcement

Positively visualizing yourself doing well in the exam can actually do well for you. View the exam as an opportunity to show how much you’ve studied and to receive a reward for the studying you’ve done. Acknowledge that you are doing your best!

5. Budget and consume your time

If you have an hour for an exam, try to consume every second of that hour in answering the best possible choice. There are no rewards for finishing first!

6. Silence unwanted pressures

Believe it or not, other students can be a source of major anxiety during the test. Seeing them cramming, telling you what you need to remember and what might show up in the exam will affect your preparation.

Get past through the negative and unwanted thoughts and remind yourself of how well you know the topic. Focus on relaxing and getting your mind ready for the test is the best thing to do a few minutes before the exam.

Avoid speaking with any fellow classmates who have not prepared and who express negativity. They will demolish all that you have prepared for.

7. Get a good night’s sleep

Getting a restful sleep before the exam can help you focus. Scientists have previously linked that a good night’s sleep means having higher test scores.

8. Eat right

Fruits and vegetables are often recommended to reduce stress. Foods that contain preservatives or heavy spices and most processed foods may upset your stomach and can distract you during the exam.

9. Snack

Take a small snack to help take your mind off your anxiety.

10. When you go blank…

If you go blank, skip the question and move on. Most exams on nursing are on the multiple-choice format. You have a 25% chance to get the correct option right. Don’t stress and consume a lot of your time for one question you can’t seem to understand.

Matt Vera, a registered nurse since 2009, leverages his experiences as a former student struggling with complex nursing topics to help aspiring nurses as a full-time writer and editor for Nurseslabs, simplifying the learning process, breaking down complicated subjects, and finding innovative ways to assist students in reaching their full potential as future healthcare providers.

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