Test Anxiety & Test Preparation

You feel a bit nervous walking into a class when you have a test. Having studied for weeks you are hoping to do well and arrive just as the instructor begins passing out the test. As your breathing becomes shorter, you notice you have a dry mouth and try to tell yourself that you've prepared enough.

A student in front of you asks you if you studied chapter 3 because she heard that's what most of the test covered. Your mind races as you try to recall what the chapter was about. When you look at the first question, your mind goes blank. You begin feeling warm and cold at the same time. As you struggle through the first question, you say to yourself, "I'm not going to pass this test." When you find that the next several questions are difficult, you begin figuring out what your other test grades need to be in order to pass the class. As you continue to struggle through the test, you start thinking about having to retake the class. You think about how your entire college career will be over, how you won't get a decent paying job, and how you'll likely be saying, "Do you want fries with that?" for the rest of your life. Then the professor says, "time's up" you can't believe how long it took for the hour to pass. While walking out the door, all of the answers come back to you. You criticize yourself for your performance and begin studying for the next test immediately.

The scenario described above demonstrates test anxiety and is typical of many students' experience. Test anxiety is a form of social phobia and primarily stems from fear of embarrassment or humiliation in situations, in which one is exposed to the scrutiny of others (e.g., professors, parents, etc.) or in which one must perform.

True "test anxiety" is not the result of inadequate preparation. If you decide to begin studying the night before a test, you probably should be anxious about the test. How do you know when you've studied enough? How do you know that you are using your study time effectively or “studying smart”?

Test Preparation:

Know what you do to prepare successfully. Individuals have different learning styles and there are many different ways to study. Several proven strategies are to use a timeline and set goals. Using a calendar, work back from your exam date. If your test is Friday and covers chapters 2-4, you may want to review chapter 2 and your notes on Monday, chapter 3 on Tuesday, chapter 4 on Wednesday, and review all materials on Thursday. Avoid cramming whenever possible. The best way to increase test anxiety is to superficially study the information.

While your studying, set goals and quiz yourself. Study in 30-40 min. time blocks with 10 min. breaks. At the beginning of your study block, set goals for yourself. At the end of the block, ask yourself questions that you think the professor will ask. Setting goals and quizzing yourself helps you remain active and reflective while studying.

Combine information from other classes. This is called "doubling up." If you are exposed to the material in two different contexts (i.e., classes, papers, homework, etc.), you will remember it better. If you have to write a paper for English class, why not write it on a subject your studying in another class?

"Stinking Thinking" while studying affects your performance. What you say to yourself while studying is extremely important to success on tests. If while completing a math problem, you hear yourself saying, "I can't do math" or "This is too tough for me" or "I never can get math," know that your thinking needs to change. What you practice is what you perform. If you tell yourself that you don't get it and have yourself believing that you don’t get it - guess what? You won’t get it. The way that you most effectively retain the information that you study is repeated exposure to the study material. Studying the information in your books, notes and class is the best way to learn the information. If you practice negative statements like "I don't get it" while studying your notes, reading the chapters and listening to lectures, you will perform negatively. When you hear yourself making critical negative statements, say to yourself, "STOP!"

Replace these thoughts with more affirming statements like, "Although I find this challenging, I will overcome this. This is only a test. It will take time to prepare. I trust my study plan." These statements may vary depending upon the negative self-statement, but know that you will perform what you practice - both with your thinking and your studying.

Test Anxiety

  1. Change your attitude about the test. Again, what you say about yourself is what you believe about yourself. Form counterstatements to negative thoughts. The goal of a test is not to demonstrate to the professor what you don't know, but to demonstrate what you do know. If being anxious about a test has been a problem for a while, know that it will take a while to overcome it. Establish realistic goals for yourself. How do you walk a journey of a thousand miles? Or a better question, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, enough cliches.
  2. Reward yourself. While you are studying, plan to reward yourself after a test - regardless of the outcome. Do not begin studying immediately after a test. Give yourself a break.
  3. Don't forget the basics. Many times students eliminate exercising, sleeping or eating right when preparing for a test. These activities help decrease your stress level and allow you to study more efficiently.
  4. Once you are prepared, do something to relax. Don't second-guess yourself. Trust your preparation.
  5. The day of the test, eat something. Try to avoid caffeine.
  6. Do something relaxing one hour before the test. Cramming will make you anxious.
  7. Arrive 10-15 minutes early before the exam begins.
  8. Avoid others who are anxious about the test. Don't let them share their anxiety with you.
  9. After you receive the test, review the entire test once and read the directions twice. Think of the test as a way to demonstrate what you know. Take a comfortable pace with the test, check your answers only if you have time. Research demonstrates that there is no relationship between test grades and when a person completes the test. If you are the last person to turn in your test, there is no reason to think that you will get a low grade.
  10. If you become anxious during the test, distract yourself. Ask the professor a question. If allowed, get a drink or go to the bathroom. Break your pencil lead, and then sharpen it. Think of your reward after the test. Say to yourself, "I can be anxious later, now it is time to take the test." Make self-affirming statements. Use relaxation techniques.

You can succeed on tests. If you can decrease your anxiety and get passed your own fears, you can effectively demonstrate everything that you know.

For help with test anxiety and test preparation contact Rachael Bein in the Academic Enrichment Center (AEC) at 793-4621.