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Breathe Good, Think Good, Test Good

Mindfulness Techniques to Improve Students Testing

by Gabriel Olano

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

Aside from freshman year Algebra 2, a love for cookies and a celebration of Marcus Lemonis' donation, standardized testing is one of the few experiences that all Columbus students will go through throughout their four years.

From the discourse before the test, with questions about whether or not you prepared, what you got last year, and what you’re aiming for, to that after the test, complaining about that boring passage, but commenting on how easy the first part of the math section felt, the period of time surrounding standardized tests never goes by unnoticed.

Still, the worst part of all of it is undeniably the stress and the anxiety that comes with testing. Even if you’ve been preparing for two months straight before exam day, you just can’t seem to fully shake off that persistent queasiness. However, you don’t need to live with this.

As with all problems, there is a solution, and it is to be found in mindfulness. In this article you’ll find a number of mindfulness exercises that you can employ to effectively rid, or at least significantly reduce, your SAT/ACT/AP exam/finals/quarterlies-related stress, before and during the test.

The Night Before

It’s a truism that getting good sleep - ideally at least eight hours - will bring endless benefits of improved focus, critical thinking skills, mood, and more. The problem, though, comes with the difficulty of getting yourself to fall asleep when your mind is racing while thinking about the next morning’s task, and whatever other million thoughts happen to be grasping for your brain’s attention at the moment. Body scan meditation will help clear your mind and allow you to easily fall asleep; here are the steps:

  1. Lay on your bed, facing upwards, with your arms to your side and your legs straight, easing all your muscles and prioritizing comfort, and close your eyes.

  2. Slow down your breathing until it’s relaxed, rhythmic, and natural.

  3. Beginning with your left - or right - toes, focus on each part of your body, moving your way up to your calves and knees, then your hips, chest, forearm, fingers and palm, each feature of your face, until you reach the very top of your head; at that point, make your way back down the other half of your body.

  4. If at any point you feel an uncomfortable sensation, linger on that area and breathe into the tension. Imagine the tension leaving your body through each breath, and move on when you feel it alleviated.

After following these steps, you’ll notice a silence in your mental space and full-body relaxation which will lead to you promptly dozing off.

The Morning Of

You managed to get a good night’s rest, but as soon as you regain consciousness after your alarm goes off, the reality of your impending test sets in, and you’re hit with the jitters and start to wonder if it’s such a bad idea to just fake an illness and stay home.

Don’t do that! Instead, follow this simple meditation routine to get your morning started off right in preparation for the exam:

  1. Sit down anywhere - on the floor, a chair, your bed - and straighten your back, making sure you’re still comfortable. This is most easily done with a flat surface behind you.

  2. Set a timer for five to 10 minutes.

  3. Like with the body scan meditation, close your eyes and ease your breaths to make them relaxed and natural.

  4. Concentrate on and repeat a phrase (otherwise known as a mantra) such as “I am” or “In, out” with the rhythm of your breathing.

  5. Continue breathing naturally and repeating your mantra for the duration of your timer.

You’ll find that after this meditation your racing mind has been decelerated, and you’re set to get ready to go to the test with internal peace.

During the Test

Finally, you’ve reached your assigned seating and are about to begin the assessment. Suddenly, your chronic test anxiety makes a comeback. Or maybe you’re already halfway through the test but are desperately lost in a section when you’re about to start panicking. You’re fine, though; you read this guide! But you don’t have any time to spare on the longer meditations you read about, so you practice this quick breathing exercise:

  1. Put down anything you may have in your hands and rest your hands on your lap or the desk in front of you.

  2. Sit up straight against your chair, still seeking to maximize comfort.

  3. Take a long, deep inhalation through your mouth for a count of 5 seconds, and hold it.

  4. With your nose, sip a last sniff of oxygen, still keeping it in your lungs.

  5. Allow 3-4 more seconds to pass, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for about 8 seconds.

  6. Repeat this 2-4 more times, until you feel your natural breathing to be calm and relaxed.

You can do this at any point during the test, whenever you feel yourself losing your cool. You’ll return to your serene state and can get your mind back on test mode to continue working.

With these three techniques, you’ll be ready to dominate whatever standardized exam you’re taking. In fact, you can use these for any stressful situation you may find yourself in. By making a habit of practicing mindful breathing, you will always be able to easily return your mind to order, and you’ll never have to worry about stress or anxiety again.

Remember: if you can breathe good, you can think good; and if you can think good, you can test good.

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