Ali Linan, Las Cruces Sun-News

STUDENTS WHO FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THE MATERIAL OR TEST CAN PRACTICE A FEW COPING MECHANISMS TO NEGATE THEIR FEARS.

As the weather cools and winter nears, the joy of the approaching holidays gets everyone giddy. But, in between then and now, students of all ages must first take finals, a time that can be of high stress.

Brandon Dixon, a senior studying physics at New Mexico State University, said he gets minimal sleep before any exam because the nerves keep him up at night.

Even if he prepares for a test one or two weeks in advance and makes an effort to get at least 7 hours of sleep, Dixon still finds himself cramming the night before, afraid he may have missed something, he said.

“I definitely identify with having test anxiety, for sure,” Dixon said. “I feel nauseous the entire day before.”

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety in which students are so overwhelmed by the material that they are unable to perform when it comes time to take the test, said Michelle Adames, associate director for the New Mexico State University Student Success Center.

“It’s normal to feel nervous before a test,” Adames said. “But for some students, the anxiety level is more severe than feeling a little nervous.”

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This type of anxiety is more common than most may realize. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, about 16 to 20 percent of students have high test anxiety, with another 18 percent troubled by moderately high test anxiety.

Richard Driscoll, American Test Anxieties Association program director, has been studying the most effective ways to combat this anxiety, which he said can present itself in three ways.

The first is worry and dread that things are going to go wrong or that one might fail. The second is physiological, where the person begins to experience head and stomach aches, as well as nausea. The third is impairment, where the mind can go blank or the person freezes, Driscoll said.

“Most people don’t know how to get over it; they think it’s just life,” Driscoll said. “But it can be treated.”

The Student Success Center at NMSU is one of the many resources for college students in the area dealing with test anxiety. The center works to prepare students for their upcoming exams, particularly by helping them develop study strategies and recognize triggers of their anxiety.

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Some of the techniques for coping with test anxiety, suggested by the Student Success Center, is to take sips of water as you wait for the test to be handed out and to sit away from the door to minimize distractions from students leaving early, Adames said.

Students can also use a stress ball, a wristband or gum as a form of distraction to help calm them down, Adames added.

Ultimately, the best ways to combat test anxiety is to be prepared for the exam and to take care of yourself while preparing, Adames said.

“Students need to sleep, and students need to not drink a lot of caffeine,” she said. “And, its really important to know the material.”

At the Student Success Center, students are encouraged to start studying for an exam at least two weeks prior, so that they feel ready and confident when they walk into the exam. Fear of failure is one of the triggers for test anxiety, and knowing the information reduces that fear, Adames said.

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The center also works with students to better their study strategies and note taking, as well as how to utilize their text books and professors to be the most successful.

“In college, a lot of stuff is individualized, students are expected to reach out to faculty or tutors,” Adames said. “But it isn’t the end of the world, and they will get through this.”

Research on anxiety during test taking began in the early 1950s, said Sharon Steinborn, a therapist at Anxiety Treatment Center of the Southwest in Las Cruces. Test anxiety can present itself in different degrees, from mild to moderate, severe or even panic inducing, she said.

Steinborn added that recognizing it and looking for help is OK.

“The biggest misconception about test anxiety is that you are the only one suffering and that everyone else has it all together,” Steinborn said. “This creates a feeling of isolation that does not permit the student to discuss his or her fears with others, which in turn, might help reduce their anxiety.

“Developing adequate tools to treat anxiety is paramount,” she said. “If you are unable to manage test anxiety on your own, seek help.”

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