Prepare yourself: Students deal with test anxiety

Story by Anna Gonzales/MCOM 2311
Featured photo by Katie Brackens/MCOM 1316

Photo illustrations by students in MCOM 1316

Spring break is long gone. Now, students at South Plains College only have a few weeks left to gear up for final exams.   Between home, work and school it might be hard to manage your time.  

     Then, before you know it, it’s test day.

     Oh, no!

     During the test do you feel your anxiety rise?

     SPC student Noah Lopez says, “Yeah, and it feels like I can hear every single noise in the room, and it stresses me out. So, then I speed thought the test cause I’m trying to get out of the room.”

     So, what’s the best way to reduce test anxiety?

     SPC Academic Advisor Melissa Cavazos says the key might be: studying. “I feel like more students – it’s not so much the confidence that they need in it,” she says, “but it’s that they are just time management wise not studying enough as they should.”

     SPC freshman Isabela Salas says she studies a lot before an exam. She also says she’ll study 5,10 or 15 minutes before an exam. “A lot of times,” she says, “it kind of depends on the exam too. With math I probably study a little less just because I think I get more anxiety for math.”

      According to the Mayo Clinic, test taking anxiety can be treated. The clinic’s website lists many “must do” things that might help.  First on the list is learning how to study efficiently. Next, the site advises someone to study early and in similar places. It suggests a person gets plenty of sleep and learn relaxation techniques. It also suggests a person talk to his or her teacher and seek a professional counselor if necessary. 

     Joanna Perez is a licensed professional counselor at SPC. She says she tries to have someone use relaxation techniques to focus on the present instead of the past or future. 

     “So, what we do is we do mindfulness,” she says, “to get to come back to the present moment instead of focusing on what’s not here yet, and those are breathing techniques, things like counting, using your senses, things of that nature.”

     Salas says she uses breathing to calm herself down. “I try to breathe a lot and block out everything,” she says, “because I also get anxiety because I take longer than most people to finish a test.”

     Miranda English, an SPC academic advisor, says test anxiety can cause a person’s brain to go into a fight or flight reflex. And that’s not good.

     “So, that panic sets in,” English says, “and it’s hard to calm that down. It’s hard to fight those thoughts especially when those negative thoughts- I don’t know this, I don’t know this so lots of different things can happen with test anxiety.”

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez/MCOM 1316

English says sometimes with test anxiety people have clammy hands, elevated heart rates, and some trouble breathing because a person’s body is literally in survival mode. 

     Those symptoms sound a lot like what Salas describes when talking about a math test she once took.  She took it at the end of one class and the beginning of another.

     “It was freaking me out,” Salas says, “because I was like I need to hurry, I need to hurry. And I felt my heart rate increasing and stuff and was getting hard to breath, and before I knew it was hard to answer the question because I was too worried about everything externally instead of the test.”

Photo by Anna Gonzales/MCOM 1316

    “Deep breathing exercises,” English says,” progressive muscle relaxation is something that we work on, and that’s basically just flexing your muscles from head to toe sequentially, taking those deep breaths, counting to 10.”

     Joanna Perez says students can get help seeing a counselor at the Wellness Center on the Levelland campus as long as they are registered as SPC students. “We take walk-ins depending on availability,” she says, “so there’s four counselors on the campus. And if one of us is available then we can take that walk in or if we are not available, we’ll have you schedule an appointment.”

     Academic advisors are also available to help in the Advising and Testing Center with walk-ins or appointments.

     “Absolutely, yeah, so 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday thought Friday there is somebody here available for a walk in,” English says.  She says you can also make an appointment if you prefer.

      She even points out that you don’t have to show up in person to get help. “You can always call over the phone or do a video chat,” she says. “We’ve got some options if you can’t make it to campus.”

     So, while final exams are still weeks away, it’s never too soon to plan ahead. You know they’re coming.

Photo by Katie Brackens/MCOM 1316

Salas says her best advice is to take deep breaths. 

Lopez says he tries to do some breathing but then he tries not to think about it.

English says she probably sees four to five students a week at the Advising Center for help with test taking strategies even in March.  She says one of the first things she does when a student comes to her for help is to ask how the student is studying. 

“What I see a lot of is just being underprepared for an exam,” English says, “and that’s when panic and fight or flight kind of kicks in. When a student goes to an exam and they realize, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t know that answer, that confuses me,’ then that panic sets in.  If I’m not prepared, I can’t do this, and all those negative thoughts start seeping into your head. So, I think just lack of being prepared in the biggest part of that.” 

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