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A Student’s Guide to Managing Test Terror and Exam Panic

A Student’s Guide to Managing Test Terror and Exam Panic

You are not alone if you feel anxious about taking tests. Test phobia is common and most students experience it to varying degrees. Understandably, students fear they will fail tests or exams because of forgetting or not knowing information the test covers. What they do not realize is that anxiety actually can be helpful in test situations. Anxiety stimulates a person’s adrenaline and produces energy that can improve a student’s performance. The trick is to use the energy and not to succumb to the terror. How do you do it?

STEP ONE -- Learn what to learn.

Remove your fear of the unknown. Learn as much as possible about what the test covers. Ask your teacher:

  • for a study guide or exam outline
  • what materials you should review --old tests, quizzes, handouts, text
  • what form the test will take --essay, short answer, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank
  • if questions are new or from previous tests and quizzes. Ask if the class may see an old exam.
  • for assistance with questions or problems you cannot resolve yourself.

Brainstorm potential exam questions with fellow classmates and take notes.

STEP TWO -- Set priorities.

All exams are not equal. You have limited time and need to decide how to use it wisely. Of course, you will not spend an inordinate amount of time studying for a test if it will not make much, or any, difference in your final semester grade. Here is a plan:

Determine your present semester average for each class. Once you know this, you can identify where making a strong effort could make a difference in your final grade, and you are in a better position to decide where to devote most of your study time. If you neglected to keep track of your grades for a class, it is time to ask your teacher for your averages. And, because there will be two weeks of work after exams this year, you need to know how that time can affect your 9 week’s average.

To change your overall semester average by one point, you must raise your exam’s grade up, or down, by 5 points. For example, say your two 9 weeks average is 90 and you earn 105 on your exam; your final grade for the class is 93. Likewise, if you score 75 on your exam, you will decrease that 90 average to an 87.

STEP THREE -- Organize study time.

Record the exam schedule on a calendar and devise a study schedule. Mark on a calendar what you are going to study each night and for how long. Block out any days you cannot use. Once you begin at night, use a timer and stick to the schedule. Remember to break up study into short chunks of time (each chunk is a different topic or subject). Do not stay up late the night before any exam. Research says that it is a waste of time to cram the night before a test plus you will be tired and mentally foggy during the test.

STEP FOUR – Organize study.

You will want to plan what and how to study.

  1. 1Organize tests, quizzes, and papers in chronological order.
  2. Add missing information.
  3. Black out all but correct answers on multiple-choice tests. Do not study incorrect information or wrong choices.
  4. Collect all note cards for vocabulary, identification, and short answers.
    • If you do not have note cards, it is time to make them for items you do not remember.
    • Study note cards at every opportunity: bathroom and lunch breaks, car/bus rides.
    • Concentrate on what you do not know.
    • Outline probable essay questions and add them to the note card(s.

STEP FIVE – Form or join a study group.

This is one of the best test preparation strategies you may use.

Teach one other. The group can provide: study cards, responses to short answer questions, expanded class notes, and additional insights and understandings. Actively share information and make each person defend and explain answers.

STEP SIX -- Take the exam.

You build confidence and diminish anxiety as you learn the class material. Some students report that they even enjoy taking the test. (Really!)

Exam checklist:

  • Bring paper, pencils, pens, eraser, and a watch (calculator if allowed in math/science).
  • Read and make sure you understand the test directions. Do not hesitate to ask the teacher questions.
  • Skim read the exam before responding to any test items.
  • Exams are 1 hour 45 minutes this semester (Fall 05). Budget your time on exam sections based on their point value. For example, if an essay question is worth 25% of the exam, budget 25% of the time allowed, 105 x .25= about 26 minutes. Jot time limits beside the sections. You need not start with the first question. If the exam contains multiple-choice questions: read question, cover choices, answer question in head, then find answer among choices. If you don’t know answer don’t look at the choices, go to the next question. Finish all questions this way before going back to unanswered questions. This will save you time, insure you answer what you know, and let your brain work in the back ground on what you could not immediately remember. The second time around, look at choices and use other test taking tips to make your best guess.
  • Watch for hints to answers for questions in responses for other questions. If you are unsure of an answer, line through wrong answer(s), and return to that question later.
  • Avoid choosing an answer containing information that you have never heard.
  • Mark answers on the paper test before you transfer them to a scantron. Politely protest if the teacher does not want you to mark on the paper copy. You may point out that this creates a second record of answers in case something happens to the scantron sheet. Many students prefer to transfer answers after they complete all the questions. Carefully mark each answer in the correct space.
  • Determine what the short answer and/or essay section(s) on the exam demand. Look for key words in the directions such as: list, explain, analyze, describe. Underline these descriptor(s). Reread the directions. Must you address multiple components? Look for key words such as then, after, also.
  • If a question has more than one part, number the parts on the question to help ensure that you answer all parts. Check these off as you answer them.
  • For essays, devote budgeted time to pre-writing activities: free writing, clustering, cubing, listing, outlining. This is critical to the quality of your essay. Also budget time to review and revise.
  • If an essay asks a specific question, be sure to answer the question in your first paragraph and then follow with your support. Keep your writing legible and neat. Mark a straight line through what you want to delete.

If you experience a mental block, move to another section. Do not turn in the exam early if you know that even one answer may be incorrect. Sometimes our brains are on time delay. Be patient. The answer may come to you.

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