Managing Test Anxiety
- Prepare well in advance. Keep up day to day. Avoid last minute cramming. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep the night before a major exam. Eat good nutritious food and bring a high energy snack to the test. Relax and compose yourself prior to the exam.
- Know time and place of the test and what you will need to bring. Be on time, neither late nor too early (panic is contagious). Plan so you can approach the test with a leisurely, confident step. Have EXTRA PENS or PENCILS with you. A second color pen can be useful for late additions to essay questions.
- Avoid quizzing each other just before the exam. Don’t talk with classmates immediately beforehand if you know it raises your anxiety level. To do so may nourish group paranoia.
- PLAN YOUR APPROACH. Read all directions carefully. Survey the entire test, getting a “birds-eye” view of the entire exam. Budget your time according to point values of various questions. Start with questions that you KNOW and come back to questions that you are unsure about.
- Ask for clarification. If you have questions about directions or procedures: ASK!! Don’t let anxiety build up because you aren’t sure about some parts of the test.
- Pay attention to the test, not to yourself or others. Avoid doubting yourself, wondering how other people are doing, or blaming yourself. Pay attention to what you CAN do now.
- Activity reduces anxiety. If you go blank and can’t think of anything to write, go to another question or another part of the test. On an essay, jot down anything you can recall … in order stimulate your memory and get your mind working.
- Relax yourself physically during the test. If you notice that you are not thinking well or you are tight … pause, lay your test aside, and take several slow, deep breaths. Concentrate on your breathing. Try saying to yourself: “I will do my very best on this exam. I am proud of my effort today on this exam. I can and will remember what I know.”
- Keep learning study skills and test techniques. With practice, these will come naturally for you.
- Self – Identity What do you WANT from college? What do you PLAN to do?
A key element of college is becoming your own person, becoming an adult who is deciding about your life, your career, your future. DECIDE what YOU want from your semesters. Do you have a goal for your grade point average? Do you want to make studying a priority in YOUR life? No one will decide whether you succeed in college except for you.
2. First day of classes Get a jump on the class by listening and planning right from the start.
TIP: Focus on the syllabus! Every instructor you ever have will have put some of themselves into their syllabus. See what you can find out about the professor, what they want, how they teach, what they will emphasize. Listen Carefully to how they describe the semester. Write down important dates. 30-40 minutes of Focused Concentration in the FIRST DAY OF CLASS can pay dividends for an entire semester.
3. Make a calendar. Have a Big Picture of the semester and choose your priorities.
The KEY is to write down ALL your due dates for EVERY assignment for the semester. This gives you a “bird’s eye view” of what work will be required. [Money saving tip: you can make a calendar with a ruler and pencil on your own paper.] Planning your semester when you will complete assignments and what order you will work on them is a sign of you taking adult control of your life and often distinguishes someone who is taking their own life seriously, from someone who is still in a childhood role of playing at life. (College should have playful times, for sure. At the same time, planning when you will do your work opens up more time for play!)
4. “Surround” your reading materials.
ALWAYS read the preface and the introduction. Like instructors with their syllabi, most authors will sincerely attempt to tell you what they are planning and what they have in mind in their Introduction. Read It! It will help you!
Surround the book more by scanning the Table of Contents, the Index, and any Appendix (appendices are added chapters, often with summarized material, at the end of a textbook). Before you read any material line-by-line in a reading assignment, see if you can “surround” the material and “guess” what you think the main point will be.
Valuable Tip: If money $$$ is a concern, use the library!! If you take your syllabi to the library the first day of class and immediately search for those textbooks, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars!
5. Take good notes in class.
- ATTEND … school is your JOB! Be at work consistently!
- Buddy System for note taking. When you CHOOSE to miss work (like adults do), then make sure you have someone you TRUST in the class taking notes for you. Do the same for them on the RARE occasions when they CHOOSE to take a day away.
- Where will you sit? Studies have shown that where you sit, MAKES A DIFFERENCE. If you don’t care about yourself or your education, sit in the back. If you do care about yourself and your education, choose a spot that is more likely to keep you engaged with the class.
6. Three keys to success in college
- SLEEP: The most successful students sleep REGULAR hours.
- EAT: Take care of your body. Eat thoughtfully. You are worth it.
- EXERCISE: The most successful way of being alert and able to concentrate in your studies is to take time to care for your physical health. Take walks. Be active.
7. Learning Curves Or, why I wince every time I hear someone say, “I studied six straight hours for that exam!”
People who brag about all-night cram sessions (as I certainly did in college) are losing sight of the fact that such packed in, mass studying is a BAD way to remember things. Even if you do CHOOSE to study all night for an exam … remember this important tip:
TIP: Choose a period you will study for (40-50 minutes) and then PLAN a 10-minute refresher. Taking a 5 to 10-minute break to stretch, eat, relax, will help you get back up to peak studying capacity and will, in the long run, help you to take in MORE information during the same amount of time.
DECIDE how well you want to do in college. Then, take some of these steps to help you get there. The process of TAKING CHARGE of your college experience can be an exciting adventure.
Marcus Flathman, Ph.D.