No (Test) Pressure

You would think that someone like me who has been in the education system for plenty of years, is two semesters ahead in college credits, and still potentially plans to attend graduate school, would be able to manage the typical situations involved in the classroom setting. What a funny joke.

Just because I haven’t been officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s most definitely present. If I’m not slightly depressed, chances are that I’m anxious. They flip-flop between each other, a see-saw in my mind, never able to rest in the middle until something heavy gets dropped on one side. If only my mind was a playground. Then I could at least try out the swing sets.

Totally off topic with that metaphor. But when it comes to school, I have never been the best test-taker. Luckily I won’t have to face any standardized tests any time soon. Taking the ACT in high school three times is enough for me. Those situations themselves are basically designed to invoke stress. It’s not like the information on the test itself is difficult, it’s the time management skills that are truly tested. Everyday tests still have time restraints, they’re just much more realistic.

So if time isn’t the problem here, why do I get so ridiculously anxious about taking any tests? It doesn’t matter if it’s a bulky midterm full of short answer questions or a simple 10 question vocabulary quiz, I still feel like I’m about to pass out. I can’t stop fidgeting, my heart pounds, my stomach is in knots, and any amount of adrenaline in my body kicks into high gear.

Even though I have a solid GPA and I love learning, I always grew up with a mentality to put out my best work. Knowing that if I work to fullest potential I can earn top marks, that’s what I expect of myself every single time. Of course that isn’t possible. That’s just another perfectionist fantasy. And yet every test of my knowledge has me crossing my fingers and hyperventilating in fear of the worse. As if I’ll end up with a failing grade or something goes wrong and my entire educational career is ruined. Even just writing it all out helps me visualize how nonsensical it is, but I overthink everything too much to not jump to those conclusions every test day.

And this anxiety is really exclusive to assessments. I used to be a little uneasy about in-class presentations or speeches, but I got over that quickly. Heck, when I took my freshmen speech class last fall, my professor asked if I was interested in joining the school’s speech team. I can practice and prepare for those situations until I feel comfortable and confident. There’s a lesser chance for surprises. Unlike tests, where hopefully teachers give out some sort of study guide or direction, but you still don’t get to see test until that very moment. In that way, it’s out of my control. I fear questions I have no inkling on how to answer. Or trick questions that leave me between two answers, and I’m someone that usually picks the wrong one in that 50/50 shot.

You probably can already guess how I feel about writing essays. I would take an essay over a test any day. Except really long research papers. I’ve been finishing one of those up over the past month, and that’s been slightly grueling. But I still have plenty of time to devote toward producing the best work possible. On test day, you just go in and hope for the best. You can only prepare and study so much until you reach the point that you just want to take the test and be done. You know you’ve done all you can, and now it’s time to put that knowledge…to the test. (Yay, puns).

I wish I could offer some advice for those who face the same feelings that I do when it comes to tests. Just having good study habits in general helps in preparing for that test, but the day of, it’s all about pulling out that coping toolbox to calm and ground yourself. Or even include some positive affirmations that you can handle anything that is thrown your way. Treat yourself for handling the situation and knowing that whatever happens, you did your best. Even if that best means a lower grade than you were expecting. It’s not the end of the world. (And if you could get me to listen to these words myself, that would be nice).

Ideally, I would want an education system that prides itself on just learning. You go at your own pace, learn what you want and need, and apply to everyday situations for future reference in a workplace setting. Outside of education, the specific skills required to take tests probably won’t be needed after graduation. Test-taking skills themselves don’t even measure your ability or intelligence. It’s just a matter of practice.

I would probably handle the situation better if my mental illness didn’t get in the way, but I can’t plan it all on anxiety. It’s just a fact of life that I’ve come to accept and work with. Is it an extra obstacle I wish I didn’t have to encounter? Of course. But I know it doesn’t define my life or academic performance. I’m in ultimate control. Anxiety can just be pretty loud when it feels like it.

As the saying goes, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Things don’t necessarily get easier. I get the same amount of test anxiety that I always have. I just get stronger and more capable of handling it. Do I get a gold sticker for that?

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