Every single day, someone tells me they suffer from test anxiety. As a former yoga teacher, I believe in the power of meditation and mindfulness to ease these symptoms. In fact, this year, I gave a talk at Nathan Fox’s LSAT Prep class in San Francisco on the role meditation and mindfulness should play in LSAT prep and even in the decision of whether to apply to law school. I actually asked 30 anxious LSAT students to close their eyes and place their hands on their knees, and they did it! Not only that, but after a simple breathing exercise, they all reported that they felt less anxious and more focused.
John Hankey of http://mindfultesttaking.com/ was kind enough to share his advice and thoughts on mindfulness with readers of my blog today. MindfulTestTaking.com offers a number of techniques & strategies to help students reduce test anxiety, but the fundamental concept is always the same: visualize & relax.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF TEST ANXIETY
According to the American Test Anxieties Association, at least 33% of students struggle with moderate to acute test anxiety.
Physical tension is always a contributing factor to test anxiety: you cannot experience stress without tensing yourself up.
Releasing this tension is the foundation for becoming a calmer test taker.
The Secret to Mindfulness: Progressive Relaxation
The ability to relax is a skill that you can learn, develop & improve over time. It is also the core principle of mindfulness.
The body scan meditation is a classic, trusted way to progressively relax and involves scanning your body from head to toe, inviting each part to relax.
Many meditators believe that relaxing the body is a “warm-up” or secondary benefit to working with your mind. This is not actually the case.
Bodily tension and a cloudy, racing mind are two sides of the exact same coin. The less tension you carry, the more clear your mind will be. Thoughts are smoke, tension is fire. To clear the smoke, put out the fire.
The body scan is often the main focus for many silent, 10-day meditation retreats and one of the core concepts taught by the Buddha.
Using a body scan audio is a great way to start meditating so you can be supported in being able to feel your body more deeply.
One body scan can be as long or as quick as you wish. 5-7 minutes is a common duration. Subsequent iterations of the body scan will help improve your ability to feel your body, release physical tension and sharpen your focus.
Your Subconscious Mind
Your subconscious mind is simply your body and how your body responds to where you put your attention.
Close your eyes and imagine you are biting into a tart, juicy lemon. Make it real. Taste it.
Did you notice that you started to salivate? That’s your subconscious mind.
Visualization for Behavioral Change
If imagining a juicy lemon makes you salivate, what will visualizing the testing scenario do to your body?
You probably guessed it: your body will (subtly) tense up. This is actually advantageous because now you can focus on progressively relaxing during the visualization.
Changing how you feel when imagining a situation will change how you feel when you next confront the situation in your life.
In other words, combining visualization & progressive relaxation will preemptively reduce your test anxiety…before test day even arrives.
It takes time, but with practice, you can eventually “see” yourself taking a test while keeping your body relaxed.
Once you hit that level of mental mastery & somatic self-control, you are ready to walk in, take the test, and enjoy a clearer, more positive mindset because of your internal work & preparation.
Words of Wisdom
If you have breaks during the test, practice the body scan meditation at this time. This will refresh and rejuvenate you, helping you sustain your energy and focus.
Also, avoid exacerbating tension & stress during the test: furrowing your brow, white-knuckling your pen or the mouse etc.
The day before your test, study as little as possible. Get a massage.
Spend a lot of time outside in nature and with people you love. Maintaining a high energy level is your number one priority now.
Ironically, a high energy level and a slow mental tempo are inter-connected: both are a by-product of physical relaxation and mental presence.