So the test is coming up this weekend on Sunday, Dec 3rd. Some of you might be feeling a little anxious. Before the test, you might feel like your heart is pounding out of your chest, and an uncomfortable feeling that you shouldn’t be there. You might be navigating your way through a college campus you’ve never been to, wondering if you’ll ever find your testing room.
So, what should you do in a situation like that?
A) Take deep breathes and calm down before moving on.
B) Get excited about the challenge ahead, pumping yourself up with words of encouragement.
A vast majority of people will most likely opt for A. It seems like sound advice right? Get yourself under control before it all gets to your head and you mess up even more. And I thought the same for a long time. But, then I came across some interesting studies that point to another conclusion.
Alison Wood Brooks, a Harvard Business School professor, has studied pre-performance anxiety in a lot of different arenas from singing karaoke to making speeches. Her research indicates that instead of following the conventional advice of trying to calm down, you should instead, embrace the stress and tell yourself that it is excitement instead by embracing the stress.
How can you ‘embrace stress’?
In one study, Brooks divided participants up into two groups. One group was told to say “I’m calm” to themselves, while the other group was instructed to say “I’m excited.”
The anxiety didn’t disappear in either group. However, the group that was told to say “I’m excited.” were evaluated to be more confident in their ability to give a speech. They also felt more confident giving the speech.
Another experiment tested stress levels of students during the GRE. Jeremy Jameison, a University of Rochester professor of psychology, gave half the students taking the test a “Stress is good for you” pep talk, and told that if they felt anxious to remind themselves that stress is good them. The other half were simply just given the test without any further instruction.
Those students that received the pep talk scored higher on the practice and the real test a few months later. Saliva samples were taken to measure the level of stress hormones of students before they took the test. These saliva samples showed that these students also had higher stress levels. So despite having higher stress levels, they actually performed better.
Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, also has a great Ted Talk that sums it up pretty well. Avoiding stress is not really the answer, the way we think about stress is.
So, if you are feeling a little anxious about the test this Sunday. Remember to stop and rethink the way you interpret stress. It will most likely improve your score. And it might even add a few years on to your life.
Good luck everyone and be sure to come back to the site after the test and let me know how you did!