Students are back to school and many have had their first tests of the year. Some students start to experience anxiety about taking tests in grade school and continue to have difficulties through college. According to West Virginia University, this is a learned behavior that can be caused by a variety of experiences.
Students may begin to associate the test scores with their self worth or fear that bad grades will alienate them from their parents. Students who want to get into college may fear that bad test scores will reduce their chances of being accepted. Timed tests can also cause anxiety, even in students who do not normally suffer from this problem as the fear of not being able to finish overwhelms them. Students can be taught relaxation techniques to reduce stress before taking tests and tips on how to take tests to get better results.
Test Preparation to Reduce Anxiety
Preparing for a test involves physical preparation as well as academic learning. Students should ensure they get enough sleep for at least a week prior to the test date. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a reduction in cognitive abilities. Recent research at the University of Michigan has compared severe sleep deprivation to a blood alcohol level of .04. Students should eat healthy and get some exercise. These are important at any time, but particularly so before a test to ensure the body has all of the nutrients it needs to function at its peak.
Get your study materials organized. The more advanced the subject, the more complex the materials are likely to be. A textbook may be supplemented with lecture notes, additional reading material and a study guide. Organized, this wealth of information will make studying more productive and effective.
Study in short sessions spread over the week, rather than cramming all of the information in the night before. Focus on the bold words and titles in a textbook as these may be used on the test and will help jog your memory. Read through all of the material completely once and highlight important passages. Reread the material again, focusing on these highlighted parts to verify a complete understanding. Skim the material a final time before the test to feel comfortable with the information.
Relaxation Techniques for Test Anxiety
Relaxation techniques can be used to calm the emotional and cognitive anxiety produced by an important test. The brain sends fear messages can cause the body to react by tensing muscles, which then reinforces the brain’s signal that there is a problem. Tensing and relaxing muscle groups will interrupt this cycle.
Close your eyes and visualize a relaxing place as if you were there. This visualization will help your brain calm down and stop sending anxiety messages to your body. Repeat the tensing and relaxing muscles activity. Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Breath slowly and evenly. The object is to break the cycle of anxiety between the brain and the body before the test begins and allow the student to focus on the information they have been learning.
Test Taking Tips
The time has arrived to actually take the test and relay the information that has been learned. There are a variety of skills that can be used to improve test taking scores overall and reduce stress. First read the entire test completely and note what each section is worth in relation to the entire test. If it is a timed test this will help focus effort on the correct areas.
Answer the easy questions first, regardless of where they are on the test. This skill is often difficult for grade school students to grasp. They have been coached to perform their homework in order and not skip around, so this skill is new to them. Go back and answer the hard questions. For multiple-choice tests, eliminate the obvious wrong answers to reduce the choices and improve the odds of a correct answer. If the question covers a major point of the class read the other questions on the test to see if they may provide a clue to the correct answer. If still unsure, go with the your gut for the correct answer.
Essay exams can cause additional anxiety as the answer is not provided. Read the question completely and write a quick outline of what you want to cover in your answer. This outline will provide a structure and if time should run out may be used by the instructor to give partial credit for answering.
Use a logical pattern to answer the question. A history class test may lend itself to a timeline structure while a science class may require a step-by-step answer. Be neat and verify that all handwritten answers are legible. Proofread the test before handing it in.
Taking tests is part of every student’s academic life, but anxiety does not need to interfere with this regular activity.