Most of us experience some level of uneasiness or tension before
and/or during a test. A small amount of tension or stress is expected. Sometimes that
nervousness works in our favor, motivating us. However, in larger amounts that tension can
interfere or even impair our capacity to think, plan, and perform on tests. The following
information will help you to cope and overcome test anxiety.
The first question I ask students consulting for test anxiety is whether
their anxiety is a result of lack of preparation, or a consequence of
overreacting/panicking during testing. Anxiety produced by inadequate preparation is easy
to understand, and can be eliminated with appropriate studying. (Hints on how to improve
your study skills are presented in the Study Skills screen of this
If you are adequately prepared but still overreact or panic, you are
suffering from test anxiety. In this screen, we will review the steps that will help you
to overcome its effects. These steps are:
- Before the test
- Thinking straight about your test
- Taking care of your basic needs
- Getting ready
- Facing the test
- During the test
- After the test
PREPARATION. Preparation is a key
element for reducing anxiety. The higher your level of preparation, the lower your level
of anxiety. Moreover, getting ready for your test, increases your self- confidence.
Avoid cramming for a test. This is an ineffective way of studying. If you cram the night
before you might be able to pass some parts of your test, but you will remember nothing
afterwards (and in most cases that information will be included in your final.) Trying to
learn weeks worth of material the day before the test does not work either. Usually this
is not a good time to learn much because you feel anxious. You feel pressured, and
probably guilty, for studying at the last minute, therefore you cannot concentrate very
well. Please do not tell me that when you study ahead of time you do worse than when you
study the day before. Years of research on how to study are against you! If this happens
to you it is because you are either, studying in advance without learning, or you have
developed the negative habit of learning under pressure. Both are ineffective ways of
learning, and both can easily create anxiety.
REVIEW ALL THE INFORMATION. Study
from your book, notebook, and any other materials used class. Combine their information.
Work on mastering the main, as well as specific concepts presented in your class.
ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS. This method
is well explained in the Study Skills screen of the Counseling Center program. When
studying, transform the headings into questions, and answer them using the different
sources of information used in class. Ask yourself what kind of questions your instructor
may ask you. Try to answer them too. Moreover, ask your instructor for samples of previous
tests, and practice with them.
USE FLASH CARDS. Yes, you can use
this type of help to organize your study. This kind of help will allow you to allocate
your time in an effective way. You will be able to determine what you already know, and
spend more time reviewing those materials that need more studying.
STRAIGHT ABOUT YOUR TEST
PUT YOUR TEST IN PERSPECTIVE. A test
is only a test. Keep in mind that there will be others. This will help you remove part of
the emotional charge we put on our tests, reducing your stress, and allowing you to study
ELIMINATE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK. Avoid
thinking of yourself in a negative way. Avoid getting entangled in negative aspects
related with studying. Focus on what needs to be done and do it. You will be surprised how
much time students spend doing everything else but studying. And negative thoughts are an
example of "everything else."
INVEST TIME IN PLANNING. Plan ways to
improve your studying. Evaluate your plan accordingly with your performance. Plan ways to
keep what you did right; and plan ways to improve what can be improved.
PUT YOUR GRADE IN PERSPECTIVE. Your
grade is not necessarily a reflection of your preparation. Most of my students believe
that the success of a test anxiety reduction program should be measured by the grades
obtained. The reality is that your grades will not improve immediately. It will take time
and more than one test to see that kind of results. Therefore, your performance should be
evaluated against what you did. If you had a good plan, and you stick to it, that is what
really counts; even if the grade was not as high as you would have liked it to be. You
might have improved significantly, but the test may have been more difficult than
expected. The reverse is also possible, you may have failed your plan and still get a good
grade. (E.G., the test included those questions you knew all about.) Again, you should use
more than your actual grade to evaluate your performance.
DEVELOP REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS. Take
your tests one at a time. Set realistic goals. Show as much as you know as you can. Hope
for a result that matches the stage of development you have reached at this point.
Unrealistic expectations will only lead to frustration, which, in turn, will become a good
excuse to give up.
CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT STUDYING. Changing the
way you think about studying can improve your performance. Studying -and grades- are not a
measure of your self- worth. You may be investing too much of your personal definition on
studying and grades. This kind of thinking can lead you to see studying as an
insurmountable task. These kinds of beliefs are very effective in creating anxiety and
stress. And these reactions can reduce, in turn, your capacity to concentrate, and learn.
Confirming that studying is an impossible task for you! (Does the concept "vicious
circle" ring a bell?)
OF YOUR BASIC NEEDS
KEEP IN MIND THAT YOU ARE MORE THAN A TEST TAKER.
Students concerned about tests usually neglect other aspects of themselves. Do not forget
that taking a test is only one of the important things in your life. You should also care
for your biological, emotional, psychological, and social needs.
"MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANA." "Healthy
mind in healthy body." Exercise. Stay in good shape. Eat consciously. Keep up with
your recreational and social activities. All contribute to your well-being and capacity to
buffer test anxiety.
REMEMBER THAT "FOOD FOR THOUGHT" IS
ONLY A LITERARY EXPRESSION. More often than not you will see students abusing
food (e.g., cookies) or beverages (e.g., coffee.) It looks as if they believe that this
will help them in studying or taking tests. In fact, the result is often the opposite. A
stomach ache will keep you from concentrating. Caffeine may give you the jitters. You may
end up feeling light-headed.
DOSIFY YOUR STUDY. Study for short
periods of time (see the Study Skills screen for more information.) Follow a moderate
pace. Do not forget that your mind can take more of the same forever. Take breaks.
REST THE NIGHT BEFORE THE TEST.
Distract your mind with activities other than studying. Rest. Get plenty of sleep. A
refreshed mind will allow you to do your best. An overly tired mind will not function at
its best. (This is the reason why studying overnight usually does
not pay off).
DO NOT ABUSE YOURSELF. Once you feel
you know what you need to know, quit studying, and do something relaxing. The only reason
why you keep studying way after you are reasonably prepared is your lack of confidence. Be
patient. Learning when to stop takes time. Accomplishing it boosts your sense of
self-confidence and self-esteem.
FACE THE DAY OF THE TEST WITH PRIDE.
Take responsibility for your actions. If you studied enough, be proud of yourself. What
really matters at this point is not the potential grade, but the fact that you did what
you were supposed to do. This is an accomplishment in itself!
EAT A SENSIBLE BREAKFAST. Do not
abuse food before the test. Some students use food as a way to reduce anxiety. Indulging
in food on the day of the test may backfire on you, impairing your performance by making
you feel physically uncomfortable (or sick) during the test.
RELAX DURING THE HOUR BEFORE THE TEST.
Do something relaxing the hour before the test. It is to late to try to learn what you did
not learn before. Last minute cramming will cloud what you have learned before. It will
also undermine your confidence.
ARRIVE AT THE CLASSROOM EARLY, BUT DO NOT STAY
THERE. Arrive at the classroom early if you want to select a good seat (e.g., a
seat away from distractions.) Then, go out of the room and use the remaining time to walk
AVOID "STRESS-CARRIERS." Politely
avoid classmates who produce anxiety and affect your disposition to the test. Do not let
them scare, stress, or upset you.
BRING A "STRESS-SAVER" WITH YOU.
Bring a magazine or newspaper to read if waiting for the test stresses you.
USE PHYSICAL RELAXATION. Learn and
use tensing and relaxing techniques to fight off the tension and anxiety.
CHECK YOUR INTERNAL STATE. How are
you? How is your anxiety level? If it is high or moderately high, take some time to relax.
Even though it takes time away from your test, relaxing increases your chances to do a
more efficient job, saving you time instead.
COACH YOURSELF. Sometimes students
get anxious after finding out that do not know the answer to the first or second question.
Tell yourself that you are going to do your best. Tell yourself that you are going to
answer the questions you know first, then the questions you are not really sure about,
and, finally, the questions you do not know. Follow your plan!
REVIEW YOUR TEST. Before you begin
answering the questions, review the entire test. Read the instructions carefully; twice if
necessary. Stick to your plan, begin working on the easiest questions first.
OUTLINE ANSWERS ON ESSAY QUESTIONS.
Develop a short outline of your answers for essay questions. This will help you to
organize your answer, avoid irritating repetitions, and skip circular arguments.
GIVE SHORT ANSWERS FOR SHORT-ANSWER QUESTIONS.
Answer short and to the point. Use specific terms and ideas. If you cannot remember a
technical term, describe it in your own words.
READ OPTIONS CAREFULLY. Read all the
options of multiple choice questions. Eliminate the most obvious. Use qualifying words
such as "always," or "only," to eliminate others. If unsure, rely on
your first hunch, then mark the question with an asterisk or a star and move on. If you
have time at the end, go back and review your marked questions.
WEAR YOUR WATCH. Do not rush through
the test. Keep track of the time. Pace yourself. If you are running out of time,
concentrate on those questions which you can answer. Make sure you match the number of the
question with the number of your answer on the Scantron.
DO NOT GET STUCK. Do not get stuck on
one question. Skip it and solve the next one. Go back to the question after you finish
answering those you can. Remember that you do not get points for trying. * RELAX YOUR
TENSION. If your tension is hampering your capacity to do your best, tense and
relax your body as needed during the test. This exercise releases your tension. Breathing
deeply, in and out, also helps to release anxiety. For more information on relaxation, see
screens in this program.
ASK QUESTIONS. Ask for more
information if you are not sure about a question in your test. Asking your instructor a
question can also help to distract you and reduce your anxiety. * TALK TO YOURSELF. If
your anxiety continues, tell yourself phrases like "I can be anxious later, now I am
going to continue my test." Use any type of internal dialogue (nobody else need to
hear you) that can help you do better in your test.
IF WORSE COME TO WORSE, USE ANY OTHER LEGAL
TRICK TO DISTRACT YOURSELF. If anxiety continues, use any acceptable way to
distract yourself from it. Request permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink, etc.
If nothing else works, go sharpen your pencil!
REWARD YOURSELF. Whether you did well
or not, reward yourself for taking, and surviving your test! You deserve it.
LATER ON. Evaluate your study plan.
Were you prepared for it? Were you able to control your anxiety and relax. Find out what
you did right and repeat it the next time. Find out what needs more work. Do not dwell on
your mistakes. You are supposed to make some. Use them as a guide for what needs to be
improved, and work on improving them.
THEN... Develop an improved plan and
begin studying for your next test!
If you would like to learn more about Test Anxiety, the Counseling Center has a variety
of resources to help you. Call or stop by the Counseling Center to make an appointment to
talk with a counselor. The Counseling Center is located across from the Lee Drain
Building, next to the Farrington Building. The telephone number is (936) 294- 1720.