This is the second of a four-part blog series on overcoming test anxiety. The first post was all about knowing the test content. No one would disagree that this is the single most important factor in reducing test anxiety and scoring well on a test. The second factor for overcoming test anxiety is a little less obvious, but vital nonetheless: you need to know how the test is structured.
What does this mean? First, a short story: In my freshman year of college I ran on the cross-country team. Before each meet the coach would gather the team together and show us a diagram of the terrain we were going to cover and what to expect along the way (sudden inclines, drop offs, heavily wooded areas, etc.) In other words, the coach gave us a map. Our job was to follow the map during the race. This reduced our anxiety because we knew what to expect.
It’s the same with a test: before you take a test you need have a map of what to expect. You need to ask the following questions: (1) what content will be covered?; (2) how much time will be given?; (3) will the test be divided into sections?; (4) what types of questions can you expect? (multiple choice; true/false; short answer; essay, etc).
Knowing how the test will be structured will likely guide you in how you study for it. You’ll have an idea of what parts of the subject you need to study in more depth. Test structure will also give you information about how much time you’ll have to take the test, and what amounts of time you can give to different sections. With the knowledge of test structure you’ll also be able to plan on breaks during the test (will you have enough time to use the restroom? may just enough time to rest your eyes for 5 seconds?). [There will be a separate blog post on taking breaks—coming soon].
I’m often surprised when I ask students I work with about a test they’re about to take and they only know what the test covers (the subject matter), but nothing about the test itself. If the teacher hasn’t said anything about the way the test is structured most students are afraid to ask. I want you to take a different approach: I want to encourage and empower you to find out as much as you can. This means asking the teacher. Don’t be shy! Most teachers will see your asking as a sign of you being responsible and acting accordingly.
To overcome test anxiety you need to take charge of the test experience as much as you can. Knowing what to expect is one way of taking charge.