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
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:
straight about your test
care of your basic needs
BEFORE 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.
NO CRAMMING. 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 especific 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
THINKING STRAIGHT ABOUT YOUR TEST
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?)
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 better.
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
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.
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
TAKING CARE 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.
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
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
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 and relax.
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
USE PHYSICAL RELAXATION.
Learn and use tensing and relaxing techniques to fight off the tension and
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
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
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
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
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
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 the Relaxation,
Breathing Techniques, and
Biofeedback screens in this
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
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
REWARD YOURSELF. Whether you
did well or not, reward yourself for taking, and surviving your test! You
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
THEN... Develop an improved
plan and begin studying for your next test!
| Study Skills |
Test Taking |
| Speaker's Anxiety
Relaxation | Biofeedback
| Attention Deficit Disorder |
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