For high school students the number of tests is relentless and steady. Sadly, depending on the professional course taken, the frequency and importance of these tests only intensifies over time. So, learning how to deal with test stress is a necessity whether one is planning to become an accountant, architect, or dentist.
As an aside, if you believe the number and frequency of tests in the U.S. is taxing, it’s nothing compared to India where the pressure to make the grade is intense, with virtually every family wanting their child to become a doctor or engineer. Consequently, India with 17% of the world’s population has one third of the world’s suicides, with the highest rate in the 15- to 29-year-old category.
To counter this crisis, one of the top universities in India, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, implemented a mobile device for monitoring mental health and facilitating connections to counselors by phone or text. The mobile phone application is called Lantern. Studies show that the program helps users reduce stress by 40%.
Obviously, test stress can have severe ramifications, so gaining a raw familiarity with the key elements to control this stress is worthwhile. No matter if it’s a phone app like Lantern, or a book such as Ben Bernstein’s Test Success! How to be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test, there are some basic principles for addressing test stress.
The big issue for some students is how to be fully engaged with the test taking process. Test Success! outlines a triad of a focused spirit, a calm body and a confident mind to address test stress.
The focused spirit involves one’s commitment to all the hard and necessary work required to succeed. It energizes one’s ability to act and achieve. Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist, implored, “Let your spirit guide your actions.” Keep working towards your goals and they will be achieved. Therefore it’s best to break any task into component parts and take action steps. One method with the acronym SMART is used to divide a task into specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic and time-based steps.
Once in the test, one needs to be fully present in the moment. The student needs to focus energy and manage the stress that naturally is a part of all test taking. Stress often manifests in physical tenseness, or an onslaught of negative thoughts unleashing a torrent of self-deprecations.
To combat this stress it’s essential to calm the body. Concentrate on breathing from the diaphragm and savor each individual breath like a Zen master. This invariably has an almost instant calming effect. ‘Grounding’ is the next step to control physical stress. Placing your feet firmly on the floor, sitting upright but without tensing up the muscles, one is ready to note the sounds, sights, smells and feel of one’s surrounding. These exercises fully force one to be squarely in the present.
A confident mind is essential. How you stand, feel, and think can directly affect confidence. Train your mind to work for you, convince yourself you’re ready to perform and succeed: it will transform doubt into confident action and banish negative thoughts. It’s best captured in the famous quote in Henry V: “All things are ready if our minds be so.”
As this triad unfolds, the calm body, confident mind, and focused spirit build upon each other dynamically. They serve to ensure you will show your knowledge on the test and are engaged each and every minute along the way.
It’s through repetition, constant practice and application that such tools become ingrained. But even the best among us fade under the pressure, such as Greg Norman missing a 3 ½ foot putt in the 1996 Masters and proceeding to collapse on the final holes.
The key is to shake off the misses, take three belly breaths, stay in the present and rely on the focused spirit.
Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC and a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last 10 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800. firstname.lastname@example.org.