Relaxation to Relieve Test Anxiety: Does It Work?

I admit that I did last minute studies before exams and written assignments on the school bus. In fact, cramming for exams was normal at my college and defined every student’s routine. After all, the stakes weren’t high. But it was in high school that the peer pressure and competition really kicked in, and I realized my old strategy wasn’t going to cut it anymore. This revelation hit me hard when my first geometry test was handed to me in first grade.

The 81% with a big B- in red circled next to it was the first grade I got in high school. Even though the class average for the test was not high, the excellence of a few of my peers pushed me to do better.

Someone in my class exclaimed, “I haven’t even studied! He scored 96% on the test and was crowned a “mathematics genius.”

At first I didn’t believe it, neither did my geometry teacher. I found out later that he “didn’t study,” but had a different study habit that I later learned to adopt myself.

Study with breaks

Not spending all night studying for an upcoming test doesn’t mean you should spend your time playing video games or watching Netflix. Instead, do something that will ease your anxiety and rest your brain. That said, if you think about anything related to staring at a screen, you might be surprised to find that technology can have the opposite effect of the relaxation you want.

Meditation achieves the goal. Rest your tired eyes, unknot your eyebrows and relax your stiff body. Before meditating, put on comfortable clothes and plan to devote 15 to 30 minutes entirely to yourself. Begin your meditation sitting on a flat surface with your legs crossed and your back relaxed. Put your hands on your knees, then close your eyes and let your imagination take flight. Imagine lying on a grassy hillside with a light wind brushing your hair or sunbathing on the Caribbean islands with gentle waves splashing just meters from your bare feet. Listen to soothing music to help you.

Taking the time to practice this exercise temporarily distracts you from upcoming tests and deadlines, allowing your brain to take a break and effectively prepare for another round of study. Meditating on your dreams and aspirations can also motivate you to work and study in anticipation of future rewards and benefits. Think about how your hard work for a week, a few days or even hours will lead to an extra afternoon of sleep or a little vacation.

Yes, meditation can be difficult – I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to sit still and withdraw into the mind, so there are a plethora of other ways to “not study” for a test ( or, more specifically, to take breaks between studies).

Meditation is not the only way to prepare effectively for an exam. An activity that does not strain your eyes, such as running, listening to music, practicing yoga, walking your dog or taking a nap, will produce the same positive effects that meditation would bring. I sat for my mid-term exams in November and found that I had benefited greatly from such study breaks. I allowed myself to take a 30-minute break to first meditate, then take a nap after three hours of nonstop study for my stats test the next day. Although the test did not magically become easier, I felt more focused and engaged while taking it, scoring over 90% on the exam.

The setbacks

Let’s face it: study breaks can be long. Very long. Ideally, each break should be no longer than 30 minutes, but forgetting to set (or snooze!) your alarm can lead to a prolonged break, leading to unpreparedness and anxiety for wasted time.

As someone who often chooses to meditate or sleep on my break, I’ve encountered this problem often, so don’t feel alone about it. Solutions such as setting multiple alarms in a row and asking your parents or friends to check on you after a certain amount of time can help make your breaks manageable. And if necessary, moving on to another activity to ease your test anxiety can always be another solution. Snack breaks are also a great and effective way to unwind, and it certainly doesn’t take too much effort or motivation!

So what?

Test anxiety is unavoidable for almost all teenagers and it is important that we learn to manage stress. So while keeping your usual study schedule, here are 2 takeaways/relaxation methods to help you:

1. Take 15-30 minute breaks between studies. When you’re tired, your brain takes in information much more slowly, so giving it time to cool off is particularly beneficial. Meditation, sleep, a run or an afternoon snack break are all methods that have worked and continue to work.

2. Start studying early. For major exams such as final, intermediate, and unit exams, stop relying on last-minute revisions and start studying a few days in advance. This way, on test day, the information will be better stored in your head and you will be better prepared than you think.

Ideally, everyone could get to the point where they “didn’t even study for an exam!” and always received a high score. However, it doesn’t happen overnight, and if you don’t find it happening to you even after trying the strategies above, don’t worry too much about this test result. The school is only a guide which helps us to prepare our future, not to determine it.