March 5th, 2021

Training Matters: Curb anxiety and boost performance

By Brittney Nyrose on February 12, 2021.

We all know the feeling of nervousness when we are heading into a test. Test anxiety goes beyond general nervousness to include physical symptoms and emotional reactions that can be present either before, during or after a test and that interfere with one’s ability to perform well on the test.

According to the research, test anxiety can affect anywhere between 12-40 per cent of all students. Just like a big game or sporting event, a test can be high-stakes for the performer. Many of the skills you learn in working with a sport psychology professional can apply to all areas of your life including school, relationships, work, recreation and lifestyle. The following five mental skills can help curb your anxiety and boost your performance on tests.

Relaxation techniques to help curb anxiety

Heading into a test with high anxiety is not going to help your performance. You will likely be more focused on your sweaty palms, beating heart, upset stomach and worried thoughts than on the test questions. One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce anxiety is to focus on your breath. By controlling your breathing, you can control many of the symptoms you will feel when anxious and change the focus of your thoughts to something more useful than worry. Deep breathing – in through your nose, allowing your abdomen to fill with air, slightly holding the breath at the top for a second, and then a long slow exhale – will do the trick. Try to inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight. Continue this breathing cycle for six breaths, or more if you can. You can do this leading up to the time of the test, during the test and even after the test when you feel anxiety creeping in.

Taking care of your body with sleep & proper nutrition

Successful performance on tests requires a healthy mind. Giving your body the proper nutrition and rest is always important, but should be a special focus on the days and nights leading up to a test. Aim for at least seven hours of rest each night, more if possible on the night before the test. The night before is not the time to be staying up all night cramming. Even if you don’t feel prepared for the test, make sure to prioritize sleep. Eating a good healthy meal full of nutrients will help your body feel energized and ready to take on a test. And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause your brain to feel foggy and affects memory and focus. If possible, bring water with you to the test.

Preparation & strategy

Preparing for a test takes a lot of studying and work to ensure you understand the material. Give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare for a test and make sure you don’t try to cram it all in the night before. Just like your coach has a strategy for the team when heading into a game, you need to have a strategy on how you are going to handle taking the test. It is helpful to know information about the test including the test length or number of questions, type of questions – multiple choice, short answer, essay, etc. – how long you have to take the test, and any materials you are allowed to bring with you. If you have one hour to complete a 50-question test, then you know you have about one minute to answer each question and then 10 extra minutes as a buffer or to review your answers.

Getting in the zone

Focus during a test is key to being successful. You must clear your head and not be thinking about other things going on in your life while writing the test. You can practice dealing with distractions that you may encounter during a test so they aren’t a bother to you. Expect some interruptions such as others moving around during the test, whispers or pencil taps. You can clear your mind by completing the breathing technique discussed above and focusing exclusively on your breath.

Using self-talk to boost confidence

Confidence comes from not only feeling prepared, but also believing in your ability to succeed. You can feel very confident heading into a test, but then as you begin reading the questions, your confidence may wean. When this happens, it helps to have a short phrase, cue word or mantra if you will. It can be something as simple as “I got this.” If you are feeling uneasy in the middle of the test, remind yourself “I may not know every answer, but I can try my best.” Positive self-talk can help reduce the worry and negative thinking that can make you lose focus when you need it most.

Using these mental skills strategies can help you go into a test feeling confident, prepared, well-rested and calm. Good luck to all you test takers out there.

Brittney Nyrose, MSc, was a mental skills coach with the Alberta Sport Development Centre – Southeast. The ASDC-SE ceased operations Friday due to changes in province funding. As a result, this is the last instalment of Training Matters.

The News would like to thank all those who contributed their time and thoughts to Training Matters over the years.

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