Monthly Archives: April 2016

Test Anxiety and How to Overcome It: Part II


TestTakingBubbleSheetThis 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.


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Overcoming Test Anxiety: Part I


AnxiousTeenIf you’re suffering from test anxiety you’ve come to the right place.  This post, and the next three, will help you. I’m a psychologist who coaches students to reduce, and in many cases, eliminate their test anxiety. In these posts I’ll share with you what you need to perform at your best without test anxiety.

There are four essential factors that contribute to successful test performance. You need to know and master all of them. Without any one you’re going to have test anxiety. When you master all four you’ll be a powerhouse.  The four factors are (1) know the test content; (2) understand how the test is structured; (3) practice and build endurance; and (4)  have performance skills.  Starting with this post and in each of the next three, I’m going to take apart each factor.  Study these posts well!

KNOW THE TEST CONTENT.   This may seem like a no-brainer. “Of course I need to know the content!” But you’d be surprised if I told you that what most people think of as “knowing” the material is not really knowing it at all. They’re just memorizing what they believe will be on the test.

But what happens, during the test, if you get a question that you haven’t seen before? You memorized all the right stuff but now you’re finding that’s not enough. What do you need to do?  Here are the three guidelines for really learning test content.

(1) Make sure that you understand what you’re studying. Many students skim the surface, memorizing some facts or formulae that they don’t truly understand. After you memorize something then explain it to someone else. It will show youwhat you know and what you still need to learn.

(2) Record the material:  write it down on flashcards, or make a study guide highlighting main points.

(3) Build flexibilityAs you review the material, change it up: shuffle your flashcards; create mock problems for yourself; if you have a study buddy make up questions for each other. When you take a test you need to expect the unexpected! So play around with the material so you feel comfortable with it.

A final point: start studying well in advance of a test!  This is probably the most important factor as you learn content: give yourself enough time to thoroughly digest the material. Many students cram at the last moment and so the material is not yet assimilated. Students who give themselves ample time to read, study, review and gain flexibility will not only score much higher, but will do so without the burden of debilitating test anxiety.


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