Counselors, students offer tips to overcome anxiety over exams

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Anxiety during finals week is common and involves physical and mental symptoms, counselors say.

Maggie Brown, Reporter

Got test anxiety? You are not alone.

Second-year English student Mikayla Borneman said she feels like she has “a heart attack the night before [an exam]. … I freak out, it’s so bad.”

Almost 100% of AACC students experience some type of test-taking anxiety, professor Lori Perez, who has taught psychology at AACC for 16 years, said. But about 25% of them ever reach a point of needing some sort of intervention.

“Interventions can range from going to a student success workshop to learn some coping strategies, speaking to a counselor or getting an academic coach to help support you more individually,” Perez said.  “The degree of intervention really depends on the severity of the anxiety and its impacts on a person’s academic, personal and social life.”

AACC students will take final exams from Dec. 13 to Dec. 17.

Test-taking anxiety is feeling nervous or apprehensive about your performance, and how you will be evaluated on a test,” Perez said.

According to Melissa Boling, an AACC counselor, worry or fear can make students hyper-nervous and trigger anxiety.

Boling explained that anxiety over exams can show up both mentally and physically.

For example, students may compare themselves to how well their classmates perform on tests or to how well they have performed on tests in the past, Boling said. Some students feel helpless when they have negative thoughts about how well prepared they are, she said.

Students who suffer from test-related anxiety may rush to finish a test, or worry about time constraints or become distracted by other students in the room, Boling said. They might believe that if others finish before the allotted time, the test must be easier for everyone else.

AACC students shared a few tips that have helped them overcome their anxieties around final exams.

KyAnna Arrington, a transfer studies student who has taken classes at AACC since 2008, said she tells her professors about her anxiety and asks them for study tips so she will feel better prepared and less anxious.

Likewise, Abigail Billovits-Hayes, a second-year marketing and advertising student, said she creates detailed study guides from her class notes before a test.

Borneman said she listens to calm music and takes slow, deep breaths before she begins an exam.

Perez suggested that anxious student should not second-guess themselves. “Typically, your first answer is the correct one, and if you’re not sure, skip that [question] and come back to it at the end,” she said

Another tip: “Monitor your thoughts” and avoid negative self-talk, Perez said.

“When you begin to [feel] that way, tell yourself you can do this,” she advised.

Bolling said preparation is key to smooth sailing on test day.

“Prepare as much as possible,” Boiling said. “Find the best study approach that works for you.”

She suggested participating in study groups or finding a quiet place to prepare, like the library. Some students like background noise while they study, so they prepare at Starbucks, she said.